BARCELONA, Spain — Lionel Messi scored his 300th and 301st career goals for Barcelona and extended his record-scoring run to 14 Spanish league games in a 2-1 comeback win at Granada on Saturday, four days before it visits AC Milan.
Messi pounced on a rebound of Cesc Fabregas’ strike five minutes after halftime to cancel out Odion Ighalo’s opener that had come against the flow of play in the 26th.
The Argentina star then claimed the victory in the 73rd with a brilliantly struck free kick to record his 17th multi-goal game of the season and take his league-leading goal tally to 37 goals.
Despite the result, Granada confirmed its revival under new coach Lucas Alcaraz, which included a win over Real Madrid two rounds ago. But even the minnow’s best efforts weren’t enough against Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer who again proved impossible to stop.
“It was tough for us today, but at the end Leo made the difference,” said Barcelona defender Jordi Alba. “It’s good for both him and the team that he keeps adding up goals. With everything that is said about Messi, it’s still not enough.”
It was Barcelona’s first win in three away matches before it heads to San Siro on Wednesday in the Champions League last 16.
Barcelona stayed on course to reclaim the Spanish league title with its 21st win in 24 rounds. It leads Atletico Madrid by 15 points and Madrid by 19 before their games on Sunday. Madrid’s deficit to the leader is its largest since May 1996 when it trailed Atletico by 20.
Earlier, Malaga edged out Athletic Bilbao 1-0 thanks to Javier Saviola’s first-half goal and Willy Caballero’s sound goalkeeping ahead of its Champions League game at Porto.
Saviola scooped Lucas Piazon’s low cross into the net to score what proved to be the winner at La Rosaleda Stadium in the 18th.
Bilbao carried the initiative the rest of the way, but Caballero made various stops, including back-to-back saves of tries by Ibai Gomez and Aritz Aduriz in the 34th.
Malaga, which visits Portuguese champion Porto on Tuesday, pulled to within four points of third-place Madrid.
With Wednesday’s game at Milan in mind, Barcelona rested regular starters Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol, while Xavi Hernandez (left calf) and David Villa (kidney stones) were both unavailable.
Barcelona dictated play from the start but couldn’t finish off its looks on goal, with forward Alexis Sanchez being particularly indecisive before Ighalo put Granada ahead.
After Alexis was again hesitant to shoot, Granada forward Carlos Aranda launched a counterattack and lobbed a cross to the far post that Manuel “Nolito” Agudo knocked down for Ighalo to push over the goalline and ignite the Los Carmenes Stadium crowd.
Messi tried to bring Barcelona back, first by floating a free kick into the arms of Antonio “Tono” Rodriguez. Thiago Alcantara followed by setting Messi up with a deft side-footed pass only for Tono to stuff his close-range attempt.
After failing to weave its way through Granada’s packed area in the first half, Barcelona turned to long strikes to unlock the defense.
Fabregas apparently surprised Tono with a bouncing shot that the veteran ‘keeper tamely batted down in front of his goal, letting Messi rush in to drive it home.
“They were playing tight in defense. We had to either arrive from midfield or shoot, so when I saw a gap I decided to shoot and luckily it worked out,” said Fabregas. “It’s good that goalkeepers know we can also play this way.”
Granada wilted after the equalizer and Barcelona sent on Iniesta to press home their advantage.
Barcelona forward Pedro Rodriguez hit the post with another long-distance try in the 66th before Messi swerved an unstoppable left-footed free kick just over the barrier that bent Tono’s right hand back and left him kneeling on the turf with a stunned look on his face.
Granada gathered itself for one last effort in the dying minutes, and goalkeeper Victor Valdes had to step up to deflect substitute Yacine Brahimi shot into the side netting in stoppage time.
Also, mid-table Getafe eased to a 3-1 win to keep Celta Vigo in the relegation zone, while Osasuna pushed Real Zaragoza to the brink of the drop with a 1-0 home victory.
On Friday, Sevilla beat last-place Deportivo La Coruna 3-1.
On Sunday, it’s: Madrid vs. Rayo Vallecano, Valladolid vs. Atletico, Espanyol vs. Real Betis, Valencia vs. Mallorca, and Real Sociedad vs. Levante.