Lionel Messi surpassed the 300-goal mark in La Liga as Barcelona moved six points clear at the top with a 3-1 victory over Sporting Gijon.
Messi gave up the chance to become the first player to reach such a goal tally in Spain’s top flight when he opted to pass his penalty kick against Celta Vigo last week, but he struck midway through the first half to give Luis Enrique’s side the lead.
Sporting hit back almost immediately through Carlos Castro, but Messi restored Barca’s advantage before the break and Neymar twice came close to a third.
Another intriguing penalty decision looked as though it could cost the visitors in the second half, when Messi gave up duties to Luis Suarez only to see the Uruguayan fail to convert, but the former Liverpool man made amends with a fine finish to put Barca in control and subdue a vociferous El Molinon crowd.
The result puts Barca six points clear at the top of the table after 24 matches and extends their unbeaten run to 31 games ahead of Saturday’s trip to Las Palmas.
Sporting frustrated Barca early on but Ivan Cuellar had to be alert to prevent Suarez from scoring in the fourth league game running, racing off his line to block the striker’s low shot at the near post after Neymar’s clever throughball.
But Cuellar could do nothing to deny Messi his milestone goal, as the Argentinian drove into space on the edge of the area before drilling into the goalkeeper’s bottom-right corner.
Sporting hit back immediately to send El Molinon into raptures – Castro sliding in at the far post to turn in Alex Menendez’s low cross from the left – but Messi restored Barca’s advantage on 31 minutes.
Suarez turned well inside the area and rolled the ball back to Messi, who side-footed high past Cuellar from 12 yards.
Neymar clipped the post with a curling effort and dragged a shot narrowly wide after turning Alberto Lora inside out, as Luis Enrique’s side finished the half firmly on the front foot.
Barca were handed the chance to double their lead just past the hour mark after Cuellar felled Neymar as he raced into the area. Messi gave up his chance for a hat-trick to allow Suarez to take the penalty but the Sporting keeper saved well to his right.
Suarez was not to be denied, however, as he curled in a superb left-footed effort off the inside of the far post just five minutes later after muscling his way past the challenge of Igor Lichnovsky to take his tally for the season to 40.
Arda Turan, who started in place of rested captain Andres Iniesta, volleyed narrowly wide after being caught in two minds when picked out behind the Sporting backline, before Suarez was denied by Cuellar once again, but Barca were comfortable in the closing stages as they saw out their seventh league win in a row.
Key Opta stats:
– Of historical top scorers of the Top 5 European Leagues, only Gerd Muller in Bundesliga (365) has scored more goals than Lionel Messi (301).
– Luis Enrique’s Barcelona have equaled Ancelotti’s Real Madrid unbeaten record (31, all competitions).
– Luis Suarez is the first player to reach double figures for both goals (24) and assists (10) in La Liga in 2015-16.
– Barcelona have missed half of the penalty kicks they have been awarded this season (8 from 16, all comps).
– Neymar has won four penalties in La Liga this season, more than any other player.
– Barcelona are the first side to miss six penalty kicks in a single La Liga season since Getafe in 2008-09.