BARCELONA, April 17- Lionel Messi scored the 400th goal of his Barcelona career as the Catalans beat Champions League-chasing Valencia 2-0 to move five points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga on Saturday.
Luis Suarez got Barca off to a flying start as he slotted home the opener after just 54 seconds from Messi’s through ball.
However, it was Valencia who enjoyed the majority of the chances thereafter and they were left to rue Dani Parejo’s missed penalty in the first half.
And Messi made sure of all three points with the final kick of the game after Diego Alves had saved his initial effort.
Madrid can move back to within two points of the leaders when they host Malaga later on Saturday.
“We scored in the first minute and then we had problems overcoming their pressing,” admitted Barca boss Luis Enrique.
“The victory is deserved because one of the important facets of the game is effectiveness in front of goal. Valencia had a penalty and fortunately Bravo was very good.”
Defeat, meanwhile, leaves Valencia now four points adrift of third-placed Atletico Madrid, who beat Deportivo la Coruna 2-1 thanks to a double from Antoine Griezmann.
“We played very well in the first-half and had a lot of good chances,” lamented Valencia boss Nuno Espirito Santo.
“We go away hurt, sad and angry because we wanted to win. In the first-half we had too many chances to end up with this result.”
– Suarez stars again –
Suarez scored two wonderful individual goals as Barca all but secured their place in the Champions League semi-finals with a 3-1 win away to Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
And he took less than a minute to pick up from where he left off in the French capital as Sergio Busquets fed Messi and his pass was fired low past Diego Alves by Suarez for his 12th goal in as many games.
However, Valencia went on to dominate the remainder of the opening 45 minutes and were desperately unlucky still to be behind at the break.
Rodrigo flashed a shot just wide before he was deemed to have been brought down inside the area by Gerard Pique.
Parejo’s penalty was poorly struck, though, and Bravo made a comfortable save low to his right.
Paco Alcacer then had a hat-trick of chances to grab a deserved equaliser as he turned Andre Gomes’s dangerous cross wide, saw a goalbound effort blocked by Pique and struck the outside of the post.
However, it could have been even worse for the visitors had Messi not sliced wide a great chance on his weaker right foot five minutes before half-time.
Enrique introduced Ivan Rakitic for Adriano at half-time in a tactical rejig to gain more control in midfield and Valencia found chances much more difficult to come by in the second period.
Bravo, though, was still needed to come to his side’s rescue once more 15 minutes from time when he turned the ball behind from Rodrigo’s volley.
But it was Messi who had the final word as he was given all the space he needed to break clear and score his 400th goal in 471 games for Barca in stoppage time as Valencia chased in vain for an equaliser.
Griezmann ensured Atletico maintained their hold on third place ahead of their huge Champions League quarter-final, second leg against Real Madrid in midweek with two stunning early strikes.
The French international thumped home an overhead kick after just five minutes before slotting home his 20th league goal of the season midway through the half.
Oriol Riera pulled a goal back 13 minutes from time, but defeat means Depor remain rooted in the battle to avoid relegation.