Messi, Villa combine to sink Rayo Vallecano

MADRID (AFP) - Barcelona restored their 13-point lead at the top of La Liga with a comfortable 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

Just as in Tuesday's 4-0 win over AC Milan, Lionel Messi and David Villa were the key men as the Argentine first set up Villa to slot home before Villa returned the favour for Messi to fire in his 41st league goal of the season five minutes before half-time.

Messi took advantage of another through ball from Villa to score his second of the evening with a wonderful scooped finish before Raul Tamudo pulled one back for Rayo with his first touch after coming on as a substitute.

However, there was some bad news for the hosts as Adriano limped off with a hamstring injury in the first-half and will miss the Champions League quarter-final ties with Paris Saint-Germain.

Without the injured Xavi and Carles Puyol and suspended Victor Valdes, Barca assistant boss Jordi Roura started with pretty much his strongest side despite their exertions in midweek and was rewarded with a strong display.

Cesc Fabregas was preferred to Thiago in the absence of Xavi and the former Arsenal captain very nearly created the opener after just six minutes as he raced onto Villa's pass and chipped the ball perfectly beyond goalkeeper Ruben Martinez into Messi's path.

But with an open goal to aim at he slipped at the crucial moment and allowed a crowd of Rayo players to get back and block his path to goal.

Messi then hit the bar with a trademark free-kick as Rayo struggled to contain the early Barca onslaught, but slowly they began to make an impact and Roberto Trashorras forced Jose Manuel Pinto into a decent save with a dipping volley.

Barca were forced into a change as Dani Alves replaced the injured Adriano, but their rhythm wasn't disrupted as they took the lead on 25 minutes.

Messi made up for his previous miss with a brilliant touch to take him clear of the Rayo defence before teeing up Villa to finish first time into the top corner 14th goal of the season.

And Rayo's willingness to press high up the field was similarly caught out for the second goal as this time Villa controlled a long ball forward and fed Messi to score for the 18th consecutive league game.

Villa should have made it three just before the break as his shot flashed across goal from Fabregas' pass and Alves was desperately unlucky to see his powerful effort from close range come off the inside of the post minutes after the restart.

Alexis Sanchez then missed a glorious opportunity to make it three as he fired wide from Alves' cross with an open goal to aim at.

However, the home fans had to wait just another three minutes for the third goal to arrive as again Villa and Messi combined with the Spanish international prodding the ball through for the World Player of the Year to dance past the last Rayo defender and lift a wonderful chip over the advancing Ruben.

Tamudo then momentarily silenced the Camp Nou who gave the former Espanyol man a hostile reception as he took to the field when he turned in Piti's cross 20 minutes from time.

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