Messi’s derby double secures win and a 10th straight 40-goal season
Ernesto Valverde’s side go 13 points clear at the top of La Liga
Lionel Messi’s free-kick opened the scoring in Barcelona’s La Liga clash against Espanyol at the Nou Camp. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters
Barcelona 2 Espanyol 0
Lionel Messi surpassed 40 goals in a season for the 10th successive year as his brace secured Barcelona a 2-0 derby victory over Espanyol and moved them 13 points clear at the top of LaLiga.
The Argentinian broke the deadlock in the 71st minute when his chipped free-kick attempt from the edge of the box was helped over the line by back-tracking Espanyol defender Victor Sanchez.
Messi, who had been an injury doubt for the game, then turned in a cross from substitute Malcom to seal victory after 89 minutes.
Messi had the first chance in the ninth minute but his shot deflected over the crossbar for a corner.
Ivan Rakitic was not too far away with a fierce drive from the edge of the box after 21 minutes and Luis Suarez, who had scored eight goals in nine games against Espanyol going into this clash, sent another effort just wide shortly afterwards.
Messi, who had missed Argentina’s friendly clash against Morocco this week with a groin injury, was showing no ill-effects as his curling free-kick from the right was pushed over by Diego Lopez.
Barca started the second half with some urgency, and Jordi Alba sliced a shot wide at the far post from Nelson Semedo’s deep cross.
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen was called into action for the first time in the 55th minute as he gathered Oscar Melendo’s shot on the turn from Borja Iglesias’ cross.
Messi thought he had opened the scoring less than a minute later but Alba was in an offside position.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde made a double change just before the hour, bringing Malcom on for Arthur and Sergi Roberto for Semedo as he tried to lift a flat atmosphere at the Nou Camp.
Brazilian winger Malcom was straight into the action, forcing Lopez into a save with a shot to the far corner.
Philippe Coutinho curled a shot inches over the bar after 68 minutes, but the home side did not have long to wait for the opener.
Messi’s free-kick was helped over the line by the head of Sanchez, who was substituted seven minutes later.
Barcelona sealed the win in the closing stages when Messi slotted a low shot past Lopez from a Malcom cross.