Messi’s dead-ball brilliance sends Barcelona three points clear at top

Valverde ready for 'trial by fire' in derby with Espanyol

Valverde ready for 'trial by fire' in derby with Espanyol

Leo Messi produced another outstanding performance as FC Barcelona strengthened their lead at the top of the Liga Santander on Saturday.

Espanyol defender Oscar Duarte fouled the Barcelona playmaker 25 yards out in a central position.

Sergio Garcia was next off the Espanyol bench in the 63rd minute, but Barcelona made it 4-0 in the 65th minute when Messi sent yet another stunning free kick into the top corner of the net.

Lionel Messi celebrates against Espanyol (Joan Monfort/AP).

In a rare moment of action in the Barcelona penalty area, Victor Sanchez's header dropped wide of the far post.

The Barca captain, playing in this fixture for a joint-record 32nd time, beat Diego Lopez with a ideal free-kick from 25 yards that curled away from the goalkeeper's despairing dive.

Suarez struck a post before Ivan Rakitic saw his point-blank header saved, with Messi's header from the rebound coming back off the other upright.

Goals from Brais Menzez, Okay Vokusli and Maxi Gomez had put Celta 3-0 ahead, but goals from Carlos Bacca in the 83rd and 87th minutes for Villarreal left Celta clinging on for all three points. The Uruguay forward held off defender David Lopez to somehow, from the tightest of angles, stab the ball between the legs of the goalkeeper and in off the far post.

After a slow start to the second half, Barca were pinned back early on with a few half-chances.

A swift counterattack found Dembele on the edge of the box who in turn picked out an on-rushing Messi to have a crack at goal which was easily saved.

Barca's front three were all in fine form but Messi was the conductor at the heart of all their play.

Hernan Perez headed over the crossbar late in the first period as Espanyol searched for a route back into the match, but Barcelona all but secured the points in the final minute of the first period. However, following a lengthy review from the Video Assistant Referee, the effort was ruled out for a marginal offside.

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