Messi passes 50-goal mark as Barcelona keep pressure on Real MAdrid

Alessandro Nesta

Barcelona 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.

Champions Barca temporarily went three points ahead of Real Madrid as Neymar and fellow South Americans Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez combined to see off an in-form Villarreal. Lionel Messi's strike regained the lead before Luis Suarez made it 3-1.

Andres Iniesta returned to the starting line-up after recovering from a groin injury with Andre Gomes the man to make way while Lucas Digne came in for Jordi Alba.

The Catalans' hopes of winning a third straight title rest on Real Madrid losing one of their remaining games.

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's first of two goals on Saturday was the Argentina captain's 50th of the season and the 100th netted by the MSN strikeforce.

The hosts finally broke Villarreal's resistance moments later.

Messi worked half a yard in the area and his deflected shot fell kindly for Neymar - perhaps inches offside - and the Brazilian smartly prodded home his 10th league goal of the season.

However, Pique says Neymar's box of tricks ought to be lauded, as the game is all about entertainment.

Miscommunication between goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Gerard Pique nearly saw the visitors gifted an equaliser as the defender deflected a cross onto the crossbar. Cedric Bakambu scored Villarreal's only goal.

Bakambu was guilty of killing a Villarreal chance when his pass to Roberto Soldado was too heavy but the striker kept his cool shortly after when Barca's risky positioning on halfway was split by a single pass and the DR Congo global raced clear to finish.

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

Suarez powered the ball under the Villarreal goalkeeper in the 69th to score his third goal in two games while Messi grabbed the fourth with a deft chip from the penalty spot in the 82nd.

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