Lionel Messi came off the bench to score a stunning goal that sealed a 2-0 home win for Barcelona over bottom club RC Deportivo de La Coruna on Saturday and stretched their lead at the top of La Liga to 14 points.
With an eye on AC Milan’s Champions League visit tomorrow, Barca left World Player of the Year Messi and five Spanish internationals out of the starting lineup at the Nou Camp.
Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez put them in front in the 38th minute, when Depor goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia could only palm his powerful downward header into the roof of the net.
Spain’s record scorer David Villa, still not back to his best after breaking his leg at the end of 2011, had earlier squandered a golden chance and made way for Messi with about half an hour left.
The Argentine forward fluffed one effort five minutes from time, but drew gasps from the home crowd in the 88th minute, when he exchanged passes with Alexis and sent a delightful chip over the onrushing Aranzubia into the net.
It was Messi’s 40th goal of the La Liga campaign, his 51st in 41 appearances in all competitions and the 17th straight league match in which he has scored, which Barca said was a world record.
The club said on its Web site (www.fcbarcelona.es) that Messi had overhauled Polish forward Teodor Pewterek, who scored in 16 straight outings for Ruch Chorzow at the end of the 1930s.
Messi has 11 matches in which to beat his La Liga record tally of 50 goals from last season.
Barca went into the game following three defeats in their last four outings. Their return to winning ways and a first clean sheet in 14 games puts them on 71 points from 27 of 38 matches, with second-placed Atletico Madrid on 57 ahead of their home fixture against Real Sociedad yesterday
Champions Real, in third spot two points behind their city rivals, visited relegation-threatened RC Celta Vigo yesterday.
Malaga were held to a 1-1 draw at Real Valladolid earlier on Saturday.
Argentine defender Martin Demichelis nodded Malaga ahead in the eighth minute before Angolan striker Manucho headed the equalizer four minutes before halftime.
The draw leaves Malaga on 44 points in the fourth qualification spot for next season’s Champions League.
Rayo Vallecano de Madrid improved their chances of securing a lucrative place in Europe next season when goals from Alejandro Dominguez and captain Piti gave the modest club a 2-0 win at home to RCD Espanyol.
Sevilla’s European bid suffered a setback when they lost 2-1 at struggling RCD Mallorca in the late kickoff.