David Villa expressed his delight at returning to top form as he scored and set up two goals for Lionel Messi as Barcelona beat Rayo Vallecano de Madrid 3-1 to restore their 13-point lead at the top of La Liga.
“I am happy to help, to play and to score, which is what I have to do because at the end of the day I am a striker,” he told Canal+ TV. “I want to continue like this and will give everything in every game so I can continue to play.”
As in last Tuesday’s 4-0 win over AC Milan, Messi and Villa were again the key protagonists as Barca looked more like their old selves than the jaded side that lost three times in four games prior to last weekend’s win over RC Deportivo de La Coruna.
However, Villa does not believe the Catalans’ confidence was ever shaken by those three defeats.
“I am happy to combine with Leo in the decisive moves. Today, the three goals have arrived from similar moves and we need to continue like this,” he said. “I don’t think we had lost our confidence. Football is a sport in which you can win, draw or lose, and we have always tried our best, even if in a few important games we weren’t able to win.”
Without the injured Xavi and Carles Puyol, and the suspended Victor Valdes, Barca assistant boss Jordi Roura started with pretty much his strongest side, despite their exertions last week and was rewarded with a strong performance.
Messi should have opened the scoring after just six minutes, but he slipped at the crucial moment after being found by a neat pass from Cesc Fabregas and then saw a trademark free-kick come off the crossbar.
However, there was some bad news for the hosts when Adriano then limped off with a hamstring injury and he is expected to miss the UEFA Champions League quarter-final ties with Paris Saint-Germain.
Dani Alves replaced his compatriot, but Barca’s rhythm was not disrupted as they took the lead on 25 minutes.
Messi made up for his previous miss with a brilliant touch to take him clear of the Rayo defense, before teeing up Villa to finish first time into the top corner for his 14th goal of the season.
Rayo’s were willing to press high up the field and they were similarly caught out for the second goal, with Villa controlling a long ball forward and feeding Messi to score for the 18th consecutive La Liga game.
Villa should have made it three just before the break when his shot flashed across goal from Fabregas’ pass and Alves was desperately unlucky to see his powerful effort from close range come off the inside of the post minutes after the restart.
However, the home fans did not have to wait long for the third goal to arrive when again Villa and Messi combined, with the Spain international prodding the ball through for the World Player of the Year to dance past the last Rayo defender and lift a wonderful chip over the advancing Ruben Martinez.
Rayo though had the final say when Raul Tamudo silenced the Camp Nou, who gave the former RCD Espanyol man a hostile reception as he took to the field, when he turned in Piti’s cross 20 minutes from time.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid continued to put the pressure on city rivals Real in second place as they won 2-0 at CA Osasuna to move within a point of Los Blancos thanks to two goals from Diego Costa.
Malaga, meanwhile, lost more ground in the race for the European places as RCD Espanyol won 2-0 at La Rosaleda, with Diego Colotto and Sergio Garcia on target for the visitors.