Lionel Messi's Brace Lifts Barcelona Past Espanyol in La Liga

Gill Clark@@gillclarkyFeatured Columnist IIMarch 30, 2019

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 30, 2019. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)        (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

 Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona moved 13 points clear at the top of La Liga with a 2-0 win over Espanyol at the Camp Nou on Saturday.

Ernesto Valverde included the fit-again Messi and Luis Suarez in his starting XI, but although the hosts dominated the first half, they could not find a way past goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Ivan Rakitic went closest to breaking the deadlock in the opening 45 minutes with a powerful shot that flew just wide of Lopez's post.

Ernesto Valverde sent on Sergi Roberto and Malcom in the second half in search of an equaliser that eventually came from another moment of magic from Messi.

The Barcelona captain delicately floated a free-kick over Lopez and into the back of the net on 71 minutes for his 40th goal of the season in all competitions:

B/R Football @brfootball

Messi has reached 40 goals in all competitions for the last 10 seasons 👑 https://t.co/w9nG1miOUy

Messi then fired home his second to secure the win with just minutes of normal time remaining after great work from Malcom.


Lenglet's Form Shows Barcelona Should Cash in on Umtiti

Clement Lenglet put in another defensive masterclass against Espanyol to further cement his place as Barcelona's first choice centre-back alongside Gerard Pique.

The Frenchman handled the threat of Borja Iglesias with ease and ensured goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen had little to do.

He also popped up with a brilliant interception to deny Wu Lei a late equaliser, before Messi secured the points with his second goal of the match:

kevinwilliams @kevvwill

And the precise kind of reactive defending Lenglet excels at.

The 23-year-old was not called up by France over the international break, unlike team-mate Samuel Umtiti, who played both 2020 European Championship qualifiers against Moldova and Iceland.

While Umtiti remains above Lenglet in the pecking order at international level, it's a different story at Barcelona, where the former Sevilla man has taken the World Cup winner's place in the side.

Lenglet has blossomed at the Camp Nou while Umtiti was out with a knee injury, and although the former Lyon man is now back to full fitness, he is being forced to sit on the bench for his club:

Godfred Akoto Boafo @eastsportsman

Lenglet has been phenomenal for Barcelona this season

Umtiti's lack of playing time has led to speculation over his future, and Barcelona are willing to listen to offers for Umtiti in the region of €70 million (£60 million), according to Goal's Ignasi Oliva Gispert

Meanwhile, Barcelona are expected to invest heavily in Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt in the summer, according to Sport:

B/R Football @brfootball

Barcelona have reportedly bid €60m for Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt, according to @Sport_EN https://t.co/bm4vxHtLlm

Should Barcelona succeed in bringing De Ligt to the Camp Nou, they would have an over-abundance of top-quality centre-backs and may need to sell to raise funds.

Umtiti would prove an attractive proposition to clubs after starring for Barca since joining from Lyon and helping France win the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Barca may be tempted to sell given Umtiti's injury troubles this season and because in Lenglet they have a younger, fast-improving player who is thriving in his first season at the Camp Nou.


What's Next?

Both clubs are back in La Liga action on Tuesday. Barcelona are away at struggling Villarreal, while Espanyol host Getafe.