La Liga: Lionel Messi scores 400th goal for Barcelona in win vs. Valencia
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi set up Luis Suarez's first-minute opener then notched his 400th goal for Barcelona in stoppage time to give the Spanish league leaders a hard-fought 2-0 win over Valencia on Saturday.
The 27-year-old Argentine is the all-time leading scorer for both Barcelona and the Spanish league. His 400th goal in his 471st match for the Catalan club was also his 278th goal in La Liga.
He also tops the Champions League with Cristiano Ronaldo with 75 goals each from the group phase on.
Ronaldo made up for a missed a penalty by also scoring in injury time to reach the 50-goal mark for a fifth consecutive season as Real Madrid beat Malaga 3-1 at home to stay two points behind Barcelona with six rounds left.
The win, however, proved costly with both Gareth Bale and Luka Modric picking up injures four days before Madrid hosts Atletico Madrid in their second-leg Champions League quarterfinal with the tie poised at 0-0.
Suarez netted his 12th goal in his last 12 appearances as Barcelona went ahead just 55 seconds into the match at Camp Nou.
But Valencia dominated the rest of the first half and the hosts needed goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to save Dani Parejo's penalty in the 10th minute.
Valencia striker Paco Alcacer went close several times before Barcelona settled down after halftime, and Messi sealed the win right before the final whistle.
"It's a great result and a day to congratulate my players for leaving it all on the pitch," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. "From the first day, I have seen my players set on winning titles."
Barcelona next turns to the Champions League for its home match against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday, when it will aim to protect a 3-1 lead in their second-leg quarterfinal.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone was red-carded apparently for complaining just before halftime as his team moved four points clear of fourth-place Valencia following its first loss in 11 rounds.
Barcelona had a perfect start when Suarez used one touch to drive Messi's pass under goalkeeper Diego Alves and finish off a counterattack started by Sergio Busquets.
But Valencia's complete control of the rest of the first half led to the rare sight of Barcelona without the ball — and seemingly at a loss as to how it could recover it in front of silent fans.
Valencia's pressure produced poor passes from Barcelona players — Gerard Pique was particularly careless — as Nuno Espirito Santo's side besieged Bravo's goal.
"We are sad, hurt and angry because we sought the win," Espirito Santo said. "In the first half we had so many chances to take away this result."
The visitors' best hope of equalizing came after Pique fouled Rodrigo Moreno while disputing a throw-in just inside the box.
Bravo smothered Parejo's spot kick, but Valencia kept threatening a goal through Alcacer.
Messi curled a free kick off the corner of the goalframe in the 64th, but he had to wait until Valencia's entire team except its goalkeeper went forward in hope of a last-gasp equalizer. That left Messi all alone to beat Diego Alves after he saved Messi's initial chip shot.
Bale hurt his left calf two minutes into the match at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, and Modric went down after tweaking his right knee in the 57th, with Madrid winning 1-0.Sergio Ramos volleyed in Ronaldo's free kick for the 24th-minute lead. Ronaldo fired a spot kick off the post in the 67th, but James Rodriguez worked two one-two passing combinations to score two minutes later.
Juan Jimenez hit back immediately for Malaga when Pepe left him unmarked in the 76th.
Ronaldo then tapped Javier Hernandez's cross into the open net for his competition leading 39th goal of the season.
Griezmann moved into third place on the season's top-scorer list after he struck with a scissor kick to put Atletico ahead in the fifth and added his 20th league goal in the 22nd. Deportivo's Oriol Riera scored with a header in the 78th.
Athletic Bilbao hosted Getafe late.