Lionel Messi brace sinks Villarreal as Barcelona and Real Madrid stay locked at top
Lionel Messi scored his 50th and 51st goals in all competitions to help Barcelona keep the pressure on Real Madrid in the Spanish league’s tight title race on Saturday.Neymar and Luis Suarez also struck in a 4-1 victory over Villarreal that increased the combined goal tally of Barcelona’s trio of star strikers to 102 in the campaign.Barcelona’s fifth straight win kept them level on points with Real Madrid, who even without Cristiano Ronaldo eased to a 4-0 victory at already relegated Granada.Barcelona hold the tiebreaker over Madrid, but Madrid have three matches to play after this round to Barcelona’s two. That means Madrid control their own fate as they try to dethrone Barcelona and lift their first Liga title since 2012.”We now have three finals left,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “It doesn’t matter what Barcelona does, we have to focus on our matches.”BARCELONA 4, VILLARREAL 1Messi’s goal on the last kick of the first half tilted a match that was wide open for the first 45 minutes in Barcelona’s favor.Neymar, who excelled in his incursions from the left flank throughout, opened the scoring when he poked in a shot by Messi that hit a defender and fell to him in front of goalkeeper Andres Fernandez.Villarreal responded with a goal by striker Cedric Bakambu in the 32nd when Roberto Soldado played him clear on the break as he sped away from Gerard Pique.Soldado barely missed with a header on the other end before Neymar helped Messi reach the 50-goal mark for the fifth time in his career.advertisementNeymar deftly dribbled past a pair of defenders and laid off for Messi to put the ball on his left boot. Head down, Messi opened an angle around two defenders and unleashed a long strike that took a deflection off Villarreal’s Mario Gaspar before finding the net.”(Messi) is a specialist in knowing where to be to do damage,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said.”(Neymar) has a different way of understanding football for all the rest. He plays at such a high speed. Sometimes it’s a dance, something exceptional, more than just merely dribbling.”Suarez fired his goal under Fernandez in the 69th after Sergi Roberto set him up in the area.Messi increased his league-leading haul to 35 goals when he converted a penalty in the “panenka” style, gently chipping the ball down the middle after the goalie moved, after Jaume Costa handled the ball in the box.GRANADA 0, REAL MADRID 4With Ronaldo resting for the Champions League semifinals, a Madrid side full of second-choice players had no trouble dealing Granada a fifth loss in a row under new coach Tony Adams.James Rodriguez needed three minutes to spark the rout and another eight to double the lead. Alvaro Morata took over, scoring twice more by the 35th.Granada offered little resistance and only the woodwork denied Lucas Vazquez adding to the demolition.”Real Madrid is on another level to us,” Adams said.ATLETICO MADRID 1, EIBAR 0Atletico Madrid rebounded from their stinging loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League by sealing their return to the continent’s top-tier competition for a fifth consecutive year.Atletico’s victory at home over Eibar ensured Diego Simeone’s side will finish in the top four places in Spain.Atletico remained in third place, 11 points ahead of Villarreal in fifth.Atletico lost at Madrid 3-0 in the opening leg of their Champions League semifinal on Tuesday. The return leg is next Wednesday.Far from being downcast following that defeat, Atletico’s fans cheered loudly throughout the match.”It’s incredible, our fans are with us until the end,” goalscorer Saul Niguez said. “They will be with us again on Wednesday. We will do everything we can to pull off the comeback.”Niguez drilled in a low cross by Diego Godin that substitute Fernando Torres smartly decided not to touch when it crossed his path in the 69th.Godin was sent off in stoppage time after picking up two quick bookings.SPORTING GIJON 1, LAS PALMAS 0Sporting rekindled their hopes of avoiding relegation by moving to within three points of Leganes, who will host Betis on Monday.