Lionel Messi’s goal glut continued as Barcelona opened up a 10-point lead in La Liga with a 1-0 win at Valencia on Wednesday.
Messi, who has scored 42 times at club level across all competitions this season, tucked a 77th-minute goal past Valencia goalkeeper Vincente Guaita to leave Real Madrid trailing by 10 points on the Spanish table.
Valencia, meanwhile, fall 20 points clear of the league leaders in third place after seeing their 11-game unbeaten run brought to an end.
Barca’s win, their 23rd straight unbeaten result in La Liga, was Pep Guardiola’s first at the Mestalla as manager.
Messi was uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal, failing to convert three gilt-edged chances, each from within eight yards, and spraying another over the crossbar.
Roberto Soldado and Pablo Hernandez both shot wide for Valencia before Messi finally found his range, tapping wide of the Guaita after Adriano ran down the left and cut inside for the Argentine marksman.
Elswhere, Villarreal kept in the hunt for the top three with a 1-0 home win over strugglers Hercules.
Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi did the damage for the hosts, beating the offside trap with a terrific run down the middle and side-footing past Hercules custodian Calatayud in the 22nd minute.
Atletico Bilbao’s freefall continued with a fourth straight loss, this time on the road to Real Zaragoza.
Llorente put the visitors ahead in the 18th minute before second-half strikes to Jiri Jarosik (51) and Ikechukwu Uche (56) saw Bilbao plummet to sixth on the table, two points clear of fifth-placed Espanyol.
Atletico Madrid moved within three points of the Europa League places with a 1-1 draw at Getafe thanks to Elias’ 82nd-minute equaliser, while Levante drew 1-1 at Real Sociedad and Osasuna fought out a goal-less draw with Deportivo.