Barcelona retained their top spot on the La Liga log as the Catalans secured an emphatic 5-0 victory over Espanyol on Sunday at Camp Nou.
Messi found the top corner from 20 yards with Pau Lopez unable to keep the ball out of his net despite getting fingertips to it at full stretch. Luis Suarez made it 3-0 with a brace after the break with Rafinha and Neymar completing the rout.
Barcelona will have to wait for the final day fixture to claim the title after Real Madrid kept pace in the title race with victory over Valencia after toppling city rivals Atletico who lost 2-1 to Levante.
Injury kept Claudio Bravo out with Marc-Andre Ter Stegen while suspension in defence saw Espanyol move Oscar Duarte from the left to the centre.
A number of Espanyol players – most notably goalkeeper Lopez – made it clear they didn’t want Barca to win the title but any chance of an upset was quashed inside 10 minutes by Messi’s inch-perfect set-piece.
Ivan Rakitic had a goal ruled out for offside, probably incorrectly, and Messi and Neymar sent free kicks wide, while Felipe Caicedo kept Barca alert by getting a shot away under the attention of Gerard Pique, but it was right at Ter Stegen.
Espanyol’s challenges got more agricultural as the half went on, Messi, as usual, catching the brunt of them, but he wasn’t the only one – Espanyol had four players booked by half time, Messi cautioned for Barca.
Barcelona came out in the second half looking to pad their lead and Suárez was able to provide the necessary cushion with a fine finish past López. Dani Alves alertly stepped up and quickly fed a pass to fed Messi, who found an onside Suarez unmarked and the Uruguayan handled things from there with a rocket of a right-footer to stretch the lead to 2-0.Smelling blood, the home side looked to ice the match with a third score.
Barcelona started to enjoy their football as they used a dizzying array of passes to bewilder the Espanyol defence in search of a goal. Yet the 3-0 lead would not come from any fancy playmaking but from a corner kick, as a Neymar inswinger from the right was headed in by Suárez just after the hour mark. For Suárez, it was his 37th league goal of the season, one more than Espanyol have as a team.
Espanyol all but gift-wrapped Barcelona’s fourth goal when, just seconds after coming on, Rafinha had the easiest of shots after López bobbled a ball in from Neymar that should have been easily saved. The ball fell right to Rafinha who calmly swept into an open net to make it 4-0.Barcelona capped off their day with a fifth, as Rafinha slipped a pass to Suárez on the right and the cross from the former Liverpool man allowed an easy stroke into goal for Neymar at the back post to complete the 5-0 scoreline.