Messi, Villa combine to sink Rayo

Barcelona's David Villa (R) celebrates with Lionel Messi after scoring in Barcelona on March 17, 2013 

Barcelona’s forward David Villa (R) celebrates with Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi after scoring during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 17, 2013. Barca won 3-1.

David Villa expressed his delight at returning to top form as he scored and set-up two goals for Lionel Messi as Barcelona beat Rayo Vallecano 3-1 to restore their 13-point lead at the top of La Liga.

“I am happy to help, to play and to score, which is what I have to do because at the end of the day I am a striker,” he told Canal+.

“I want to continue like this and will give everything in every game so I can continue to play.”

As in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over AC Milan, Messi and Villa were again the key protagonists as Barca looked more like their old selves than the jaded side that lost three times in four games prior to last weekend’s win over Deportivo La Coruna.

However, Villa doesn’t believe the Catalans confidence was ever shaken by those three defeats.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi (R) celebrates with David Villa after scoring in Barcelona on March 17, 2013 

Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (R) celebrates with Barcelona’s forward David Villa after scoring during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 17, 2013.

“I am happy to combine with Leo in the decisive moves. Today the three goals have arrived from similar moves and we need to continue like this.

“I don’t think we had lost our confidence. Football is a sport in which you can win, draw or lose and we have always tried our best even if in a few important games we weren’t able to win.”

Without the injured Xavi and Carles Puyol and suspended Victor Valdes, Barca assistant boss Jordi Roura started with pretty much his strongest side despite their exertions in midweek and was rewarded with a strong performance.

Messi should have opened the scoring after just six minutes but he slipped at the crucial moment after being found by a neat pass from Cesc Fabregas and then saw a tradamark free-kick come off the crossbar.

However, there was some bad news for the hosts as Adriano then limped off with a hamstring injury and is expected to miss the Champions League quarter-final ties with Paris Saint-Germain.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 17, 2013 

Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 17, 2013. Barca won 3-1.

Dani Alves replaced his compatriot but Barca’s rhythm wasn’t disrupted as they took the lead on 25 minutes.

Messi made up for his previous miss with a brilliant touch to take him clear of the Rayo defence before teeing up Villa to finish first time into the top corner 14th goal of the season.

And Rayo’s willingness to press high up the field was similarly caught out for the second goal as this time Villa controlled a long ball forward and fed Messi to score for the 18th consecutive league game.

Villa should have made it three just before the break as his shot flashed across goal from Fabregas’ pass and Alves was desperately unlucky to see his powerful effort from close range come off the inside of the post minutes after the restart.

However, the home fans didn’t have to wait long for the third goal to arrive as again Villa and Messi combined with the Spanish international prodding the ball through for the World Player of the Year to dance past the last Rayo defender and lift a wonderful chip over the advancing Ruben Martinez.

Rayo though had the final say as Raul Tamudo silenced the Camp Nou, who gave the former Espanyol man a hostile reception as he took to the field, when he turned in Piti’s cross 20 minutes from time.

Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid continued to put the pressure on city rivals Real in second place as they won 2-0 at Osasuna to move within a point of Los Blancos thanks to two goals from Diego Costa.

Malaga meanwhile lost more ground in the race for the European places as Espanyol won 2-0 at La Rosaleda with Diego Colotto and Sergio Garcia on target for the visitors.

At the bottom, Zaragaoza’s awful run continued as they lost 4-0 at Sevilla, but there was some relief for Granada as they moved four points clear of the bottom three with a 1-1 draw with Levante.

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