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Leo Messi spot on for Barcelona

Barcelona: Barcelona kept up the pressure on La Liga title rivals Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid when Lionel Messi struck from the penalty spot in a 1-0 win at Espanyol in Saturday’s Catalan Derby.

The laboured victory at Espanyol’s Cornella-El Prat stadium took the champions, who are chasing a fifth domestic league triumph in six years, to 75 points from 31 of 38 matches.

Barca’s trip across town to face their local rivals, who are eighth on 40 points and still in with a chance of qualifying for Europe, was potentially their stiffest test remaining before their final game at home to Atletico in May.

While they were far from their dynamic best against a well-drilled and fired-up Espanyol side, the victory was a positive way to prepare for Tuesday’s Champions League quarter final, first leg at home to Atletico.

“We are now in a privileged position (in La Liga) and we are in charge of our own destiny,” Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets said.

“Let’s hope that is the case until the last game against Atletico,” added the Spain international.

Barca and Espanyol each had chances in a frenetic opening with Messi and Neymar going close for the visitors and Pizzi wasting two excellent opportunities for the home side.

The decisive moment of the match came when Espanyol fullback Javi Lopez handled the ball in the area and Messi dispatched the spot kick with 13 minutes remaining, the Argentina forward’s 23rd La Liga goal of an injury-disrupted season. (Agencies)