Lionel Messi passes goal tally of last season as Barcelona move four points clear in La Liga

Messi scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Eibar

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The Independent Online

Messi took his goal tally for the season to 43 after scoring a brace in a 2-0 win over Eibar in La Liga and with it surpassed the 41 he scored during the whole of last season.

The four-time Ballon d'Or winner has been in scintillating form of late and put in another impressive performance in a win that moves the Catalan side four points clear at the top of La Liga.

Barcelona are now guaranteed to be ahead of Real Madrid at the top of the table when they host their arch rivals in next weekend's 'Clasico' after Messi struck twice.

Real host Levante on Sunday.

With Xavi and Andres Iniesta on the bench, Messi captained the side and put the Catalan giants ahead in the 31st minute at the tiny Ipurua stadium in the Basque country when he converted a penalty after Borja Ekiza handled the Argentina forward's shot.

Messi added a second effort 10 minutes into the second half when he nodded in an Ivan Rakitic corner, his 32nd La Liga goal of the campaign and his 43rd in all competitions, two more than he managed in the whole of an injury-disrupted 2013-14.

He has scored at least twice in 120 matches for club and country, 112 for Barcelona and eight for Argentina.

To their credit, Eibar, playing in La Liga for the first time this season, refused to capitulate to their illustrious visitors and forward Federico Piovaccari struck a shot against the crossbar late on.

Messi's scintillating recent form bodes well for Wednesday's Champions League last 16 return match at home to Manchester City when Barca will defend a 2-1 lead from last month's first leg.

La Liga champions Atletico Madrid, by contrast, are struggling for goals before they seek to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Bayer Leverkusen in Europe's elite club competition on Tuesday.

Atletico surrendered third place to Valencia on Saturday when they had Miranda sent off for a brutal challenge in first-half added time and were held to a 0-0 draw at mid-table Espanyol.

The Madrid side had the better chances at the Cornella-El Prat stadium in Barcelona before centre back Miranda was shown a straight red card when he felled Abraham with an arm as the pair jumped for a bouncing ball.

Forward Fernando Torres had forced a fine save from Espanyol goalkeeper Kiko Casilla in the 11th minute and midfielder Koke fired narrowly wide a minute later.

Playing with a man fewer in the second period Atletico struggled to create scoring opportunities but Raul Garcia came close to breaking the deadlock 13 minutes from time when his low shot was brilliantly tipped away by Casilla.

Atletico, without a win in their last four games, have 56 points in fourth.

Valencia have 57 after Friday's 2-0 success at home to Deportivo La Coruna while fifth-placed Sevilla (49) can close to within four points of Atletico by beating Elche on Sunday.

Barca's game at Eibar was also noteworthy for midfielder Xavi making a club record-extending 750th appearance when he came on as a second-half substitute for Rakitic.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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