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Messi saves Barca, but storm clouds continue to brew after matchday 23 in Spain

Editor: Wang Lingxiao 丨Xinhua

02-20-2017 10:18 BJT

MADRID, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) -- Leo Messi saved FC Barcelona from the abyss, but even his goals were not enough to hide the feeling that the club is in crisis following their 2-1 win at home to Leganes.

Barca went into the game with the Primera Liga minnows on the back of their 4-0 thrashing against Paris Saint Germain on Tuesday and in front of the lowest crowd of the season.

Messi opened the scoring in the third minute and things looked to have returned to normal, but Barca failed to build in midfield and had Ter Stegen to thank for three saves to deny Nabil el Zhar before the break.

Leganes refused to lower their head after the break and got their reward in the 70th minute through Unai Lopez, but Messi popped up a minute from time to break Lega's hearts and keep Barca second, even though the problems are plain to see.

Meanwhile, Gareth Bale returned with a goal as Real Madrid remained top of the table with an easy 2-0 win at home to Espanyol on Saturday.

Bale returned after 88 days out with an ankle injury in the 70th minute of the game, with Madrid already leading thanks to a first half header from Alvaro Morata, and sealed the points with a trademark run and low finish into the far corner of the Espanyol net.

Madrid looked to be at half speed against a rival that has now gone 23 years without a win in the Santiago Bernabeu. They appear to be saving their players and energy for Wednesday's trip to Valencia.

In other action, Sevilla remain third with a hard-fought 2-0 win at home to Eibar, thanks to a 30th minute goal from Pablo Sarabia and an injury time strike from Vitolo.

Kevin Gameiro scored the second fastest hat-trick in La Liga history at four minutes and 45 seconds as Atletico Madrid won 4-1 away to Sporting Gijon.

The Frenchman scored with goals in the 80th, 81st and 85th minutes after coming on as a 61st minute substitute.

Yannick Carrasco had put Atletico ahead just 13 seconds into the second half, but Sergio Alvarez equalized five minutes later and Sporting pressed hard for a winning goal until Gameiro' s quickfire treble.

Atletico's position in fourth place was made more secure when Samu Castelejo's late goal gave Villarreal a 1-0 win away to Real Sociedad.

The visitors defended solidly in the first half and only looked to attack in the last 25 minutes, but in that time created the best chances of the game, before Samu's 93rd minute volley from a Jaume Costa cross.

First half goals from Nani and Zaza gave Valencia just their third home win of the campaign as they defeated Athletic Club Bilbao 2-0.

Visiting coach Ernesto Valverde made a club record-breaking 290th appearance as coach, but his side struggled to adapt to lineup changes. An injury to Aritz Aduriz just 2 minutes after coming on as a 51st minute substitute meant Athletic had to play for over 35 minutes with just 10 men.

Celta Vigo enjoyed a comfortable 3-0 win at home to Osasuna, who are now six points adrift from the bottom of the table, with goals from Pionne Sisto and late strikes from Jozabed and Iago Aspas.

Manu Garcia's penalty gave Alaves a valuable 1-0 win away to Deportivo la Coruna, who have yet to win in 2017 and are now squarely in the battle to avoid relegation.

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