Lionel Messi nets as Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid

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In his 747th appearance for Barcelona, he has now netted 539 times, while for Argentina he has found the target on a more modest 61 occasions in 123 outings.

Messi's goal gave Barcelona a 1-0 win against second-place Atletico Madrid and widened the gap over its closest rival to eight points with 11 rounds remaining. Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu is planning to bring in an established defender to Camp Nou to help replace Vermaelen and help Umtiti get even better next year.

Ernesto Valverde has a near-full strength squad to pick from ahead of the visit of Atletico Madrid, with just one player unavailable.

He famously brought up 500 goals for Barca during last April's Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu, scoring the stoppage-time victor as the Catalans beat Real Madrid 3-2.

Atletico have an extra day to recover following the midweek game and in such a tightly balanced match that could be decisive, but so could Messi, Griezmann, Costa or Suarez in what promises to be 90 minutes of tension in Barcelona.

Since knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League in 2016, Atletico Madrid have won none of the five subsequent meetings between the two sides.

Atletico Madrid's frontline of Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa will be relishing their Camp Nou chance
Atletico Madrid's frontline of Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa will be relishing their Camp Nou chance. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

"They didn't have clear chances but you're never relaxed because they have great forwards".

The 30-year-old struck in Sunday's LaLiga showdown with Atletico Madrid to reach his latest goalscoring milestone. Goals have been a little tough to come by for the Catalans, despite having scored 10 goals in five league matches, as six of them came in one match.

The Blaugrana can play with three up top, an option Valverde has been denied for most of this campaign while Ousmane Dembele has struggled with injury.

The France worldwide has enjoyed a fantastic return to form in recent weeks with seven goals in his last two La Liga appearances, and Griezmann's sparkling performances have sparked fresh speculation about his future.

Also yesterday, Valencia tightened their hold on fourth spot after beating Real Betis 2-0 at home as Italian striker Simone Zaza scored for the first time since December, adding the second goal early in the second half after Rodrigo Moreno had hit the opener.

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