Madrid, Feb 17 (IANS) Lionel Messi scored two more goals in his incredible season as FC Barcelona took a hard fought 2-1 win away to Granada to ensure they at least retain their lead at the top of Spain's La Liga over Atletico Madrid and third placed Real Madrid.
Messi netted twice in the second half as his team had to battle back from a goal down against their hard-working rivals. Barca lead Atletico by 15 points and Real Madrid by 19 although both sides can make up ground if they win their respective matches Sunday, reports Xinhua.
With a view on their Champions League tie away to AC Milan next week, Barca rested midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, who is putting the finishing touches to his recovery from a hamstring injury.
Thiago Alcantara and Alexis Sanchez came into the starting 11 Saturday while Javier Mascherano stepped into the team to allow Carlos Puyol to rest.
Alexis, who scored his first league goal of the season in last weekend's 6-1 win over Getafe, had the first chance of the game but his control allowed Granada keeper Tono to make a brave save.
Granada had won their last two games including a 1-0 home win against Real Madrid.
Their confidence was clear to see as they defended solidly and looked to play with pace, with former Barca-B team striker Nolito keen to impress against his former club and forcing an early save from Victor Valdes.
Thiago and Alexis had further shots on goal but it was a miss from Alexis, who dwelt on the ball in the Granada penalty area, which led to the first goal of the game as Granada launched a counter-attack which saw Nolito nod the ball down for Odion Ighalo to poke the ball home from close range, although he looked to be in an offside position.
Barca had the majority of the ball, but thanks to the hard work of the Granada midfield and defence, didn't find their rivals net until the 50th minute when Tono was unable to hold a low drive from Cesc Fabregas and Messi was on hand to poke home from close range.
Messi has now scored in his side's last 14 league matches and it was his 36th league goal of the campaign and his 300th for the club.
Meanwhile, Tono redeemed his error five minutes later when he was again off his line rapidly to stop Alexis, who was replaced by Christian Tello moments later.
Pedro Rodriguez hit the post for Barca after 66 minutes as the league leaders took control of the game and he was perhaps unfortunate to see a goal ruled out for offside a minute later.
Messi netted his 37th goal of the season after 72 minutes when he curled a magnificent 25 yard free kick over the defensive wall and past Tono's outstretched hand.
Granada were paying for their Herculean efforts earlier in the game and that allowed Barca to retain possession with a series of long passing moves and Tello should have sealed the win with a thumping shot just over the Granada bar.
That could have been an expensive miss as Ibrahima shot into the side of the Barca goal in injury time although Tono then produced another save at the other end to deny Messi yet another hat-trick.
Earlier in the day, Getafe deepened Celta Vigo's problems with a 3-1 win in their Alfonso Perez Coliseum. Adrian Colunga opened the scoring for the home side and although Augusto Fernandez levelled for Celta, further goals from Diego Castro and Fede Fernandez before the break gave Getafe the points, leaving Celta in the relegation zone.
Malaga prepared for their Champions League match in Porto next week with a 1-0 win at home to Athletic Club Bilbao. Javier Saviola scored the only goal of the game but Malaga had an excellent display from goalkeeper Willy Caballero, who kept their rivals out.