Messi leads Barca over Rayo to solidify lead


match against Rayo Vallecano in Barcelona.

7:07 pm, March 10, 2019

The Associated Press
BARCELONA (AP) — With Lionel Messi in top form, Barcelona looks ready to erase its Champions League frustrations.

Messi made sure Barcelona backed up consecutive wins over Real Madrid by scoring one goal and setting up another to help beat relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano 3-1 and maintain its comfortable lead of the Spanish league on Saturday.

That means Barcelona will host French side Lyon in the Champions League on Wednesday after having taken major steps toward securing a domestic double over the past two weeks.

Barcelona will need a win over Lyon to advance after being held to 0-0 in the opening leg of their round-of-16 tie.

Barcelona eliminated Madrid from the King’s Cup semifinals and crushed its fierce rival’s best chance to get back in the Liga title fight with two wins at the Santiago Bernabeu last week.

But as Messi said at the start of the campaign, his team’s No. 1 objective is to win another European title. Barcelona hasn’t gotten past the Champions League quarterfinals since its last title in 2015, and it has been waiting all year to make up for a stunning 3-0 loss at Roma last season.

“We have all three titles in our heads,” said Gerard Pique, who equalized against Rayo before halftime from a pass by Messi.

“Wednesday’s match is a final,” Pique added. “If you win, you advance, if you lose or draw, you are out. All of our focus is now on Wednesday’s game.”

The win over Rayo kept Barcelona seven points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid, which beat Leganes 1-0. Madrid was 15 points adrift before visiting Valladolid on Sunday.