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Lionel Messi eyes another scoring milestone for Barcelona

Photo: Paco Largo/Icon SMI

Lionel Messi and Barcelona lead La Liga by 13 points over Real Madrid.

With a goal against Celta Vigo on Saturday, Lionel Messi can become the first player to score against every Spanish league opponent in consecutive order.

Barcelona's all-time leading scorer netted a record 73 goals in all competitions last season, and hasn't let up with 55 so far this campaign.

Barcelona, along with Real Madrid and Malaga, will use the return to domestic action to prepare for the Champions League quarterfinals next week.

Barcelona leads the league by 13 points and is on its way to recovering the title from Madrid. It travels to Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday for the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.

"PSG will be a tough rival. They are a great team both in attack and defense and they are deadly on the break,'' said Barcelona forward Cristian Tello, who could get a start on Saturday as others rest.

Madrid, meanwhile, visits Real Zaragoza to warm up for Galatasaray's visit on Wednesday, when Malaga will welcome German champion Borussia Dortmund after playing at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.

Messi is on a record run of scoring in 18 straight league matches. The last time Messi failed to score in the league was Nov. 3. when Barcelona didn't need his goals to beat Celta 3-1.

Because the Spanish league season is scheduled with the teams playing each other in exact order, Messi has scored against every other team in Spain since then.

Messi has scored 28 goals during the streak and has a league-leading 42 for the season through 28 rounds. He holds the league record of 50 goals from last season and now has 10 rounds left to try and better it.

The 25-year-old Messi started his scoring run by striking twice in Barcelona's 4-2 win at Mallorca. Ten games later, he broke the old milestone held by Barcelona's Mariano Martin (1942-43) and Madrid's Ronaldo (1996-97) by scoring four against Osasuna in a 5-1 rout on Jan. 27.

Against a Celta team in second-to-last place with one win in its last 10 games and without suspended striker Iago Aspas, Barcelona's most daunting challenges could be its players' weary legs after their commitments with their national sides and the lure of looking ahead to PSG.

Barcelona will hope it doesn't pick up any more injuries, especially in defense. It was already without Carles Puyol (knee surgery) and Adriano (leg muscle) before Jordi Alba pulled a muscle in his right leg in Spain's 1-1 draw with Finland last Friday.

Midfielder Xavi Hernandez is back on the injured list due to a nagging hamstring, and Barcelona also lost Pedro Rodriguez for 10 days with a leg injury after he scored the winner in Spain's 1-0 victory over France on Tuesday that gave the world champions control of their qualifying group for the World Cup.

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova returned home earlier this week from after spending 10 weeks in the United States undergoing treatment for a throat tumor. The club said he will gradually recover his day-to-day duties, but it appears assistant Jordi Roura will be in charge at Balaidos Stadium.

Barcelona has combined an elimination by Madrid in the Copa del Rey with a historic comeback against AC Milan in the Champions League with Vilanova gone.

"We needed to get him back,'' Tello said. "His absence was noticed because the manager is always important. While he was gone we remained united and that was key.''

On Sunday, third-place Atletico Madrid hosts Valencia looking to keep the pressure on Madrid for a runner-up finish. Fourth-place Real Sociedad visits Espanyol, last-place Deportivo La Coruna is at Mallorca, and Valladolid hosts Osasuna.

Levante hosts Sevilla also on Saturday. Real Betis hosts Getafe on Monday, while Granada visits Athletic Bilbao.

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