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FC Barcelona News: 16 February 2014: Barca Retain La Liga Lead, Manchester City Squad Named

David Ramos

Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona prepared for Tuesday's Champions League trip to Manchester City by returning to the top of La Liga with a stylish win over Rayo Vallecano. The four-time world football of the year went above former Real Madrid striker and compatriot Alfredo Di Stefano in La Liga goal-scoring history, and his 228 goals in 263 games takes him joint third in the all-time league goal-scoring charts with ex-Real Madrid striker Raul.

Gerardo Martino has called up 23 players for the first leg of the knockout stages of the Champions League against Manchester City. The Argentine coach, who led a training session this Sunday, in which all available players took part, as well as Sandro, from Barça B, left Isaac Cuenca out of the squad.

In the press conference after the 6-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano, Gerardo Martino said that if his team continue to play at this level that "our chances increase in the Champions League" and he explained the he prefers to go into the match against Manchester City with a game like tonight’s under his belt. "I didn’t think it was all that bad when we tied or lost, and I don’t think it’s so simple after a match like today’s. If I have to choose, I’d pick a match like today’s ahead of our game against City."

The Brazilian Neymar Jr returned to competitive play in style after successfully recovering from an ankle injury that kept him off the pitch for approximately three weeks. Neymar, who featured for Barça in the final 30 minutes of the match against Rayo Vallecano, told the press that "I’m very happy to be able to play and I’m very happy that I scored." He admitted that his time off the pitch wasn’t necessarily easy for him: "This month has been long, I was very eager to play." He added: "I’d give the team a 9 out of 10, we played a really good game, but you can always improve."

Alves said: "City have good players – but they will never be Barcelona. They are a modern football club built on big transfer fees – but at Barcelona there is a history and class that dates back a long way. So much of Barcelona’s success is ­because of players who have come through the club’s youth system, La Masia, and I think ideally that is what every football club wants to achieve."

He told Uefa's official website: "It's difficult because I don't really want to play Barcelona. "It's a club I have a lot of respect for, a club which taught me a lot and where I have many friends who helped me. I will play against these guys at the Camp Nou. It's the stadium where I always wanted to play and now I'll be coming back wearing a different shirt. I didn't want to play in front of the fans who gave me so much love and respected me, but that's football."

When asked about yesterday’s game, Puyol said, "the team played a great game against a team that came to the Camp Nou to play football – that forces you to be constantly intense." The players are now focused on the Champions League knock out round tie against Manchester City, and Puyol admitted that "the best part of the season is here" and "we played well, just as we did against Real Sociedad – we’re confident coming into Tuesday’s game."

Leo Messi’s legend continues to grow. The Argentinian broke Alfredo Di Stéfano goalscoring record in the league and equalled Raúl González’s. Thanks to his goals against Rayo Vallecano, Barça’s No.10 took his league goal tally to 228. It only took the player 263 appearances to set this record, 66 less than his countryman, who played for Madrid (1953/1964) and Espanyol (1964/1966).

Carles Puyol has made his 391th league appearance against Rayo this evening, equalling Migueli’s appearances to join the famous Barça captain as the player to play most league games, behind only Xavi Hernadez on 463.

The Blaugrana were defeated in the miniclásico after they had taken the lead through a strike from Denis Suárez. Real Madrid fired back thanks to goals scored by Burigui, Aguza and Mascarell (p).

Villarreal's home game with Celta Vigo in Spain's La Liga was suspended in the 88th minute after a smoke bomb was thrown on to the pitch. Celta Vigo were leading 1-0 at El Madrigal when a canister, which was billowing smoke, was thrown. Play resumed around 20 minutes later and Celta went on to win 2-0.

Atletico Madrid ended a run of three defeats when goals from Raul Garcia and Diego Costa set them on their way to a 3-0 win at home to Real Valladolid. Atletico came into the game at their Calderon stadium after resounding losses in both legs of their King's Cup semi-final against city rivals Real Madrid, either side of a surprise 2-0 La Liga reverse at promoted Almeria.

Chelsea defender and Barcelona target David Luiz has emerged on the radar of big-spending French club Paris Saint-Germain. And although he has impressed in a midfield role in recent weeks for the Blues, Barcelona are believed to be readying a summer move, as they look to strengthen their backline. However, according to L'Equipe, Paris Saint-Germain could look to rival the Spanish champions, by taking the former Benfica man to the French capital.

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