MADRID - Lionel Messi extended his Spanish league scoring record to 18 straight games with a brace as Barcelona restored their 13-point lead over Real Madrid with a 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano yesterday.
Messi set up David Villa for Barcelona's opener in the 25th minute, and Villa returned the favour in the 40th for Messi to take his first goal.
Villa linked up with Messi again in the 57th as the Argentine forward used a delicate chip shot to score his league-leading 42nd goal of the season.
However, there was some bad news for the hosts as Adriano limped off with a hamstring injury in the first half.
Without the injured Xavi and Carles Puyol and suspended Victor Valdes, Barca assistant boss Jordi Roura started with pretty much his strongest side and was rewarded with a strong display.
Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, retained third place with a 2-0 win at Osasuna, courtesy of a brace from Brazilian striker Diego Costa. Costa, 24, has become a firm favourite of Atletico fans thanks to his fighting spirit, commitment and crucial goals.
He has not been capped by Brazil, and in February he hinted that he would be very receptive if asked to play for Spain.
Costa made it 1-0 in the 35th minute by heading in a centre from Arda Turan. Three minutes into the second half he made it 2-0 by turning in a centre from youngster Koke.
The win left Atletico just one point behind second-placed Real Madrid.