Messi nets 55th goal, Barcelona wins at Mallorca


BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -Lionel Messi scored his 55th goal of the season as 10-man Barcelona beat Mallorca 2-0 for its seventh consecutive league win on Saturday, provisionally reducing the gap with Spanish leader Real Madrid to three points.

Messi, who broke Barcelona's all-time scoring record on Wednesday, netted from a poorly defended free kick to become the first player in a top-level European league to score 55 goals in a season since Sporting Lisbon's Mario Jardel in 2002.

Barcelona's Thiago Alcantara received his second booking in the 56th, but Gerard Pique volleyed in Messi's rebound off the post in the 79th to seal the victory.

The pressure is on Madrid when it hosts Real Sociedad later without suspended coach Jose Mourinho and several players.

Just last week Madrid's march toward a first league title in four years looked unstoppable, but back-to-back draws combined with Barcelona's rediscovered form have tightened the race.

"When we went down to 10 men we knew it would be tough, but we resisted well," Pique said. "These are three valuable points. Now let's see what happens (with Madrid)."

Mallorca carried the initiative early at Iberostar Stadium.

But it was Messi who had the first scoring chance in the 13th when he stole a backpass and raced into the area, only to send his chip try off the face of goalkeeper Dudu Aouate.

With orchestrator Xavi Hernandez on the bench, Barcelona's passing attack lacked its usual fluidity.

But a horrible defensive lapse by the hosts let Messi score one of the easier goals of his record 235 for Barcelona. Various Mallorca defenders failed to make a play on Messi's lobbed free kick, letting it bounce in the area before landing in the back of the net.

The goal took Messi's Spanish league-haul to 35 goals this season, two more than Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. The Argentina forward has scored in eight straight games with 18 goals during the streak.

Mallorca gained a numerical advantage after Thiago was shown a second yellow card for a questionable hand ball when it appeared he used his shoulder to control a ball.

Mallorca sought to capitalize on its extra manpower, but Pique put the result beyond doubt. Messi squirmed free and fired off the goal frame, and Pique shot in the rebound.

Valencia visits Getafe in Saturday's late game.

On Sunday, it's: Zaragoza vs. Atletico Madrid, Espanyol vs. Malaga, Levante vs. Osasuna, Athletic Bilbao vs. Sporting Gijon, Rayo Vallecano vs. Villarreal and Real Betis vs. Racing Santander.

Granada hosts Sevilla on Monday.

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