Messi, Suarez score as Barca wins, Real’s Ronaldo hits 37th
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Luis Suarez netted two goals after Lionel Messi opened the scoring to guide Spanish league leader Barcelona to a 4-0 victory over Almeria on Wednesday.
Cristiano Ronaldo later made sure that Real Madrid stayed in contention for the league title by scoring his competition-leading 37th goal of the season in a 2-0 win at Rayo Vallecano. The Ballon d’ Or holder also set up James Rodriguez for Madrid’s other goal.
Barcelona’s 20th win in 21 games in 2015 kept it four points clear of Madrid with eight rounds remaining.
Messi undid Almeria’s defense with a curling shot to open the scoring in the 33rd minute at Camp Nou.
Suarez struck from near the same spot with a blistering shot in the 55th and scored again in stoppage time after Marc Bartra had found the net.
“We know that if we are not focused we won’t take the three points, and if we don’t do that we won’t win the league,” Suarez said. “We only depend on ourselves and have to keep going forward like this.”
Elsewhere, Deportivo La Coruna fired coach Victor Fernandez after its 1-1 home draw with bottom-side Cordoba left it on the edge of the relegation zone.
Celta Vigo substitute Theo Bongonda also scored in injury time to salvage a 1-1 draw at Granada.
Barcelona now faces a demanding two-week stretch with league games against Sevilla and Valencia, along with a Champions League quarterfinal against Paris Saint-Germain.
Luis Enrique rested several first-choice players, including Neymar and Andres Iniesta, to prepare for the run of upcoming matches.
“This reinforces us for our trip to Sevilla” on Saturday, Barcelona manager Luis Enrique said. “Some of the top league opponents are coming, and everything will be on the line in the Champions League.”
Despite the absences, his side still dominated possession and created scoring chances throughout, although Almeria’s defensive strategy to pack its area limited the hosts to a pair of timid strikes until Messi broke through.
Almeria appeared to have Messi under control when he received the ball pegged to the right sideline. But Messi made one move to shed a defender, and once inside the area wasted no time in bending an unstoppable left-footed strike around goalkeeper Julian Cuesta.
Messi’s goal was his 44th in 43 games in all competitions this season. It took his tally in the league to 33, second only Ronaldo.
Suarez also continued his strong scoring run over the last two months by recording his 15th and 16th goals in 31 games.
Suarez’s first goal also included him receiving a seemingly harmless ball on the right side. But just like Messi, Suarez dribbled past one Almeria player and then unleashed a left-foot shot that Cuesta got a hand to but couldn’t keep out.
Bartra’s headed goal from a corner in the 75th was the team’s third goal in as many games from a set piece, an area the Catalan club struggled at before the arrival of Luis Enrique this campaign.
Suarez completed the rout after Pedro Rodriguez drew Cuesta off his line and set up Suarez to steer the ball into the open net on the break.
Almeria’s loss left the club in the drop zone and marked a disappointing debut for former Barcelona coach Sergi Barjuan, its third manager of the season.
Rayo outplayed its star-studded neighbors and forced Madrid goalie Iker Casillas into making three saves while the visitors didn’t muster a shot on goal in the first half at Vallecas Stadium.
Madrid, however, emerged a different side after halftime and Ronaldo was left unmarked to head in Dani Carvajal’s short cross in the 68th minute.
Five minutes later, Ronaldo passed for Rodriguez to slot in Madrid’s second.
Cordoba’s Florin Andone scored both goals in the night’s other early kickoff.
He started out by putting his own team ahead in the 55th minute. But after Deportivo had been reduced to 10 men when Luis Correia earned his second booking, Andone scored an own goal with three minutes left.
Granada went head through Roberto Ibanez in the third minute, but its hopes of escaping the relegation zone were dealt a blow by Bongonda’s late equalizer.