By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Lionel Messi came off the bench to inspire Barcelona to a 3-1 win over a dogged Leganes side on Sunday, creating one goal and scoring another to keep the Catalans five points clear at the top of La Liga.
Messi, left out of the starting line-up for only the second time this season when fit, was called on with 64 minutes on the clock and the game poised at 1-1 after Leganes forward Martin Braithwaite had cancelled out Ousmane Dembele’s first-half opener with a 57th-minute strike.
The Argentine quickly provided the spark Barca needed by firing a venomous shot from the outside the area which was too powerful for goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar to hold, and Luis Suarez pounced to stab home on the rebound in the 71st minute after a lengthy video assistant referee (VAR) review.
La Liga’s top scorer made sure of the victory in stoppage- time, sweeping across the area and hammering the ball past a helpless Cuellar for his 18th goal of the season in Spain’s top flight, taking leaders Barca on to 46 points, five clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid, after 20 games.
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)