Messi, Suarez and Neymar star as Barcelona sweep aside Villarreal
Barcelona 4 - 1 Villarreal

Messi, Suarez and Neymar star as Barcelona sweep aside Villarreal

Lionel Messi scored his 50th and 51st goals in all competitions this season 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 goals in the campaign.

Barcelona's fifth straight win gave then three more points than Madrid before the latter visited relegated Granada later on Saturday.

Barca still lead Real Madrid at the top of the table courtesy of their superior head-to-head record, but Zinedine Zidane's side have a game in hand and need just two wins and a draw from their remaining three games to clinch a first title since 2012.

Villarreal, who had only conceded 10 times on the road prior to this fixture, proved to be a tough nut to crack in the early stages.

Messi was presented with Barca's first real sight of goal after 20 minutes when Alvaro Gonzalez handled at the edge of the box, but the Argentine blazed his free kick over the bar.

The hosts finally broke Villarreal's resistance moments later. Messi found space inside the box and fired across a sea of defenders and picked out Neymar, who took a touch before slotting past Andres Fernandez. Replays suggested that the Brazilian looked to be in an offside position.

Miscommunication between goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Gerard Pique almost saw the visitors gifted an equaliser as the defender deflected a cross onto the crossbar.

Fran Escriba's side responded after 31 minutes as Bakambu raced onto Roberto Soldado's through ball before keeping his composure to fire past Ter Stegen and score his seventh goal in six games.

Pique could only glance his header wide after Messi's cross while Soldado should have given Villarreal the lead with the goal at his mercy as both sides looked to gain a stronghold before the break.

But on the stroke of half-time, a moment of brilliance from Messi saw the hosts regain the lead. The Barca talisman skipped past the challenge of Rodri before slotting the ball into the bottom corner from outside the box, with a slight deflection leaving Fernandez wrong-footed in the Villarreal goal.

Barca continued on the front foot as Iniesta's sublime pass found the run of Digne but the defender lashed over the bar.

As the visitors looked to attack, a ruthless break saw the Catalans take a 3-1 lead. Sergi Roberto played through Suarez who created space before blasting past Fernandez and putting the game out of reach.

Jaume Costa's handball in the box gave Messi the chance to make it 51 goals this season and the Argentinian obliged with a Panenka nine minutes from time to extend their advantage in the title race.

Messi increased his league-leading haul to 35 goals, followed by Suarez's 27.

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