Record-chasing Lionel Messi and Neymar scored as Spanish league leader Barcelona eased to a 2-0 win at nine-man Rayo Vallecano on Saturday. Messi chipped goalkeeper Antonio “Tono” Rodriguez in the 35th minute for his 249th league goal, leaving him two behind the all-time scoring record held by Telmo Zarra since 1955.
A minute later, Neymar added his seventh league goal in as many rounds, giving the strike pair a combined 13 of Barcelona’s 19 goals in league play. “This goes in runs. The connection between (Messi and Neymar) is working for us now and others will appear,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said.
Rayo was spared a larger defeat thanks to Barcelona not exploiting its chances, despite the hosts finishing two men down after Jorge Morcillo and Javier Aquino received their second bookings.
Barcelona’s sixth win, to go with one draw, left it two points ahead of Valencia, after it beat Atletico Madrid 3-1. Atletico’s first league loss dropped the defending champion five points adrift of Barcelona and provisionally in third.
Also, Eibar scored in injury time to earn a thrilling 3-3 draw with visitors Levante. Malaga rallied for a 2-1 win against visiting Granada, and Almeria drew 2-2 at home with 10-man Elche.
While Messi will have to wait for his own landmark, Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo broke a league record that had stood since 1977 for not conceding a goal through the first seven rounds.
Bravo needed to protect his goal for 20 minutes to break the record set by former Barcelona goalkeeper Pedro Artola, but he had to get low to stop Alberto Bueno from scoring in the eighth.
Rayo coach Paco Jemez insists on an attacking style and a pressing defense, so it seemed only a matter of time before Barcelona took advantage of Rayo’s high defensive line.
Moments after Messi had a goal annulled for offside, he broke through when he ran onto Gerard Pique’s long ball, held off his marker, and used his left foot to lift the ball over Tono. When Munir El Haddadi won another long pass from Sergio Busquets, he set up Neymar to slot the ball inside the post. Jemez pulled one center back at halftime to add Manucho up front, and Rayo lost its second center back, Morcillo, to a second booking in the 60th.
But Barcelona had to settle for the comfortable win instead of the rout after Messi missed late chances. Aquino, who went on in the second half, was sent off in stoppage time for an aggressive tackle on Busquets. Valencia stunned Atletico Madrid with three goals in the first 13 minutes before holding on to win at Mestalla Stadium.
In the runup to the game, Valencia coach Nuno Espirito Santo and his players criticised what they considered Atletico’s physical, intimidating style of play.
But it was Valencia that was the aggressor with 22 fouls to Atletico’s 14, and its attack was quick to pounce on Atletico after Miranda gifted away the opener in the sixth by heading a harmless long pass into his own goal. Andre Gomes took advantage of Atletico’s disconcerted defense a minute later when he dribbled by Miranda to drill a shot under Moya.
Valencia kept up the pressure, and defender Nicolas Otamendi charged in to score with a powerful header from a corner kick that Paco Alcacer forced Miranda to concede with another incursion in the area.
“They did a lot of damage in those 10 minutes, but I am proud of our match. Sometimes you lose in a dignified manner leaving it all on the pitch,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.