Messi scores 2, Barcelona beats Villarreal 3-1

Lionel Messi`s double lifted Barcelona to a provisional lead over Real Madrid.

Barcelona: Lionel Messi`s double lifted Barcelona to a provisional lead over Real Madrid in the Spanish league with its 3-1 win against third-place Villarreal.

In other matches, nine-man Athletic Bilbao bettered Almeria 1-0 and Diego Forlan scored twice in Atletico Madrid`s 3-0 win over Osasuna yesterday.

David Villa scored Barcelona`s 22nd-minute opener with a low strike from the left side of the penalty area after deftly
avoiding a diving tackle by defender Carlos Marchena.

Four minutes later, Nilmar slalomed through the left side
of the Barcelona defense and beat Victor Valdes with a
left-foot crossing shot that ricocheted off the right post and
into the net.

Messi regained the lead by chipping Diego Lopez from the
right in the 59th after a precision combination with Pedro
Rodriguez surrounded by the Villarreal defense, and the
Argentina forward recorded his 10th goal of the season - just
one behind league leader Cristiano Ronaldo - by deflecting
Rodriguez` cross in the 83rd.

Barcelona head coach Pep Guardiola said he was "very
satisfied with the win" over a Villarreal that had "impressed"
him.

Barcelona`s 28 points lifted it two ahead of Real Madrid,
which visits Sporting Gijon on Sunday. Villarreal, which had
not lost since the first round, remained third with 23 points.

Andres Iniesta threatened to break down the Villarreal
defense early on in an electric opening, and Villa almost
found Lopez`s net in the 8th with a dipping volley.

Villarreal did not retreat and Giuseppe Rossi soon got
behind the left side of the Barcelona defense, but Eric Abidal
recovered to cut off his progress.

Lopez made a great reflex save to keep Messi`s header out
minutes before Villa`s sixth goal of the season set up by
Iniesta.

In the 26th, Messi was whistled offside on a play that
ended in a phantom goal by Rodriguez, and seconds later Nilmar
tallied his seventh goal of the season with Barcelona caught
protesting the call.

"It`s there in the images, what we have to do is train
hard to be the best," said Carles Puyol, who reached his 500th
game with Barcelona.

The equalizer pushed Villarreal forward with Rossi
creating danger each time he touched the ball. Just after the
half-hour mark the Italian forward connected with Santiago
Carzola inside the area for a shot that sailed high, and
forced a diving stop from Valdes with a well-placed free kick.

Messi barely missed the top right corner of the
Villarreal net with a curling free kick of his own before the
break.

The frentic pace continued into the second period, but
Messi`s first goal allowed the Spanish champs to tighten up
their defense till their star sealed the win.

Bilbao moved provisionally into seventh place with 16
points with its win, while Almeria stayed on nine points near
the relegation zone.

Fernando Llorente fended off his defender and smashed a
volley from a cross by Igor Martinez into the net for the
10th-minute winner and his eighth league goal of the season.

Bilbao went a man down after Koikili Lertxundi del Campo
was shown his second yellow card at the end of the first
period and was reduced to nine over the last 20 minutes when
Xavier Castillo drew a red card.

"We had a numerical advantage, but Athletic was never at
an emotional disadvantage," said Almeria manager Juan Manuel
Lillo, whose team has won only once this season. "Above all
because they were ahead on the scoreboard."

Bilbao had a chance to go ahead four minutes before
Llorente`s opener when Almeria midfielder Juanma Ortiz brought
down Carlos Gurpegi in the area. But Diego Alves anticipated
Mikel San Jose`s penalty kick perfectly and smothered it with
a dive to his right.

Koikili was given his second yellow for obstructing
Almeria forward Jose Ulloa in first-half injury time.

Castillo, a second-half substitute, was sent off in the
69th for tripping Goitom with only the keeper to beat.
"It is worthy of standing up and taking your hat off.
Playing with nine they did not create chances against us and
that says a lot about my players," said Bilbao coach Joaquin
Caparros.

At Vicente Calderon Stadium, Forlan snapped a twelve-game
scoring drought to help Atletico end a streak of three games
without a victory.

Forlan began the rout in the 26th poking in the rebound
of a Sergio Aguero strike.

Atletico keeper David de Gea saved a Masoud Soleimani
header in the 25th and stretched to redirect a low cross from
Carlos Aranda with both Fernando Soriano and Juanfran Torres
unmarked in the six-yard box.

Forlan returned the assist for an Aguero header four
minutes before the break.

Osasuna played the last half hour with 10 men after Nacho
Monreal was given his second yellow card, and Forlan sealed
the victory in the 70th with his fifth goal of the season.

"Atletico has a lot of firepower up front and that was
the difference in the game," said Jose Camacho, whose Osasuna
remained 12th with 12 points and has not won away since
January.

Atletico provisionally climbed into 5th place with 17
points.

Bureau Report

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