Messi magic seals Barca's 2-1 victory

Lionel Messi's quick thinking and brilliant execution fired Barcelona to a 2-1 La Liga win at Atletico Madrid on Sunday that kept the gap on leaders Real Madrid to 10 points.

The World Player of the Year caught the Atletico defence napping to score a breathtaking 81st-minute free kick and settle an intense battle at the Calderon after Atletico striker Radamel Falcao had cancelled out Daniel Alves's opening goal.

As the home defence lined up to defend the free kick wide on the left, Messi noticed Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois out of position and curled a stunning strike over the Belgian's head into the far top corner for his 28th league goal of the season.

Real had earlier squeaked past Madrid neighbours Rayo Vallecano 1-0 thanks to a clever Cristiano Ronaldo backheel that helped Jose Mourinho's side equal the club record of nine straight away wins from the 2009-10 season.

With 24 of 38 matches played, Jose Mourinho's Real have 64 points, with Pep Guardiola's Barca on 54 in second and Valencia, who lost 2-1 at home to Sevilla on Sunday, 14 points further back in third.

Levante, the lowly Valencia-based club who are this season's surprise package, climbed to fourth on 35 points thanks to their 2-1 win at Espanyol on Saturday, although only eight points separate them from Villarreal in 17th.

Messi’s goal gave Barca only their fifth win in 12 games on the road.

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