By Joseph Wilson ,AP
BARCELONA, Spain — Lionel Messi scored an acrobatic goal to help Barcelona earn a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Malaga on Saturday, giving the defending champion the overnight lead of the Spanish league.
Showing no signs of any lingering muscle pain that kept him from playing midweek, Messi made a pass for Luis Suarez to set up Munir El Haddadi’s opening goal in the second minute.
After Malaga’s pressure led to Juan “Juanpi” Anor leveling, Messi restored Barcelona’s advantage for good with a skillful scissor kick after halftime.
Yet despite Messi leading the way in attack, Barcelona still needed goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to ensure it took three points from La Rosaleda Stadium.
“One bad half, one good one,” Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta said. “We weren’t comfortable in the first half and they were well-positioned and took advantage of our poor passes. But in the second half we saw the solid team that we are used to.”
Barcelona moved one point ahead of Atletico Madrid before it plays Sevilla on Sunday. Barcelona, which also has a game to play, hosts Atletico in the next round in a highly anticipated clash between the last two champions.
Third-place Real Madrid will be five points behind Barcelona before visiting Real Betis on Sunday.
Also Saturday, Mateo Musacchio’s 88th-minute header salvaged fourth-place Villarreal a 2-2 draw at Espanyol. Espanyol lost scorers Felipe Caicedo to injury and Gerard Moreno to a second booking after Musacchio’s goal.
Granada almost squandered a two-goal lead before Ruben Rochina’s strike secured a 3-2 win over Getafe, while Rayo Vallecano routed fifth-place Celta Vigo 3-0 to end a nine-round winless run. Both Granada and Rayo provisionally escaped the relegation zone, while Celta fell seven points adrift of the Champions League spots.