La Liga: Messi, Neymar lead Barcelona to win vs. Espanyol

Publish date:

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi helped to set up Neymar's opener before scoring one himself to lead 10-man Barcelona to a 2-0 win at Espanyol, provisionally increasing its lead of the Spanish league on Saturday.

Luis Suarez, the third member of Barcelona's star-studded attack, played a part in both goals against Barcelona's cross-town rival.

Messi's incisive pass started a move that Neymar finished off in the 17th minute after Suarez coolly let the ball run between his legs.

Suarez then crossed for Messi to double the visitors' advantage in the 25th.

Watch: Messi unlocks Espanyol, Neymar scores to cap 25-pass move

It was Messi's 47th goal in 48 games, while Neymar netted his fourth goal in five matches, and his 31st in all competitions this season.

Barcelona lost left back Jordi Alba to back-to-back bookings in the 54th after he continued to protest, but the pacesetters didn't miss a beat, and three minutes later Messi hit the post.

Espanyol also finished with 10 men after referee Mateu Lahoz showed two yellow cards just moments apart to Hector Moreno for complaining in stoppage time.

Barcelona leads the league by five points from second-place Real Madrid, which visits Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who has also guided the team into a Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich and the final of the Copa del Rey, called his side's first half "the best" of the season.

"We are feeling good vibrations, but good vibrations don't mean anything. Points and wins count," Luis Enrique said. "We have five rounds left, and our attitude must remain the same. I'm not worried about my players relaxing."

With Messi in fine form, Barcelona dominated the derby from the start.

He fell back into midfield where he picked Espanyol with his passes over the defense, and only goalkeeper Kiko Casilla prevented the hosts from suffering a bigger defeat.

Messi had already spotted runs by Neymar and Alba that ended in saves by Casilla before his long pass was squared by Alba and fell to Neymar to drive home after Suarez let it run past.

"Messi is one of a kind," Espanyol manager Sergio Gonzalez said.

Suarez also continued to excel as a playmaker when he interchanged passes with Andres Iniesta before finding Messi alone at the far post to slot a shot under Casillas from a tight angle.

Down 2-0, Espanyol finally emerged from its half, but that left its defense only more exposed. Casilla was called on to parry Neymar's strike after Suarez set him up before halftime, and block the Brazilian's chip shot just after the break.

Alba's temper cost him his sudden sending off. The referee first booked Alba for protesting, and his continued complaints earned him a second card moments later before the ball was back in play.

Espanyol took advantage of its extra man only in the final 20 minutes with a series of corner kicks that Barcelona defended without problems, before goalie Claudio Bravo denied substitute Christian Stuani four minutes from time.

Third-place Atletico Madrid hosted Elche late, while Villarreal visited Real Sociedad and Levante was at Getafe.