Messi converts from the penalty spot for Barcelona. AP/PA Images
Still On Top

Messi penalty helps Barcelona rally from behind to restore seven-point lead

Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez were also on target for Ernesto Valverde’s side.

BARCELONA RESTORED THEIR seven-point lead at the top of La Liga as they came from behind to beat Rayo Vallecano 3-1 at Camp Nou on Saturday.

With the gap earlier cut to four points after Atletico Madrid beat Leganes 1-0, Barca went into the contest under pressure and were a long way from their best in the first half.

And Rayo threatened to hand Atleti’s prospects of overhauling the defending champions a boost when they opened the scoring through Raul de Tomas’ fine strike.

However, Gerard Pique levelled in the 38th minute before Lionel Messi’s penalty and a late third from Luis Suarez ensured Barca still have plenty of breathing room at the summit.

Rayo started brightly and were denied what looked a decent shout for a penalty when Pique appeared to pull down De Tomas just inside the area.

Only the fine reflexes of Stole Dimitrievski prevented Luis Suarez from opening the scoring as the Macedonia international turned his low effort behind, and the Camp Nou crowd was then silenced as his counterpart at the other end was beaten.

De Tomas cut in from the left and took on Pique and Nelson Semedo before unleashing a powerful bending effort beyond Marc-Andre ter Stegen and into the bottom-right corner.

Pique wasted a gilt-edged chance just after the half hour, sending a close-range header well wide, but atoned for that miss as the centre-back nodded home Messi’s right-wing free-kick.

And the turnaround was completed six minutes after the restart, Messi casually beating Dimitrievski from 12 yards, punishing Jordi Amat for an ill-advised challenge on Semedo on the right side of the box.

Spain Soccer La Liga Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring his side's third goal. AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

Jose Pozo flashed an effort wide as Rayo sought a leveller and, though Alex Moreno did well to head a seemingly goal-bound Messi free-kick behind, Rayo could not prevent Suarez from tapping in a third after combining superbly with Ivan Rakitic.

Ernesto Valverde named a surprisingly strong side just four days out from the second leg of a Champions League tie with Lyon that hangs in the balance and will not have been completely impressed by what he saw.

Rayo were in the game until late on and posed Barca plenty of problems at the back.

In a game where few Barca players were on top form, Suarez looked impressive. He was unlucky not to open the scoring and the goal that clinched it was a treat for those inside Camp Nou.

Rayo defended well for much of the match, but they were undone by one of their own as Amat brought down Semedo in a passage of play where there was no real threat to their goal.

There was no way back from there, and as a result Rayo remain second from bottom on the LaLiga table, two points adrift of safety.

Barca welcome Lyon to Camp Nou for their last-16 meeting before travelling to Real Betis on Sunday, when Rayo visit Villarreal in a crucial game at the bottom.

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