Lionel Messi’s double in the 3-0 victory over Elche took the Argentina international clear at the top of LaLiga’s goalscoring charts as Barcelona moved to within five points of leaders Atletico Madrid.
Messi’s 17th and 18th of a disappointing campaign so far for the club took him two clear of former team-mate and now Atletico rival Luis Suarez.
At the start of a significant few days for Barca, the win over LaLiga’s second-bottom side set up the prospect of them moving above Real Madrid and into second if they win in Seville on Saturday.
Ronald Koeman’s side then have to overturn a 2-0 deficit to Sevilla in the Copa Del Rey semi-final second leg at the Nou Camp next Wednesday.
After a dismal first half, some typical Messi brilliance broke the deadlock two minutes after the restart when he picked up the ball 45 yards from goal, ran to the edge of the box and laid off to Martin Braithwaite whose backheel returned it into his path for the Argentinian to fire home.
Frenkie De Jong’s driving run and pass presented Messi with a simple second in the 68th minute and Jordi Alba made things safe with another assist from Braithwaite.
Arch-rivals Real Madrid struggled to break down an Atalanta side who played 73 minutes with 10 men before winning 1-0 with a goal four minutes from time in their Champions League last-16 first leg in Bergamo.
Remo Freuler was sent off for a foul on Ferland Mendy, which the referee deemed denied a goalscoring opportunity, and late on the France left-back curled home right-footed from distance to break the hosts’ resistance with his first Champions League goal.