BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi tore a ligament in his left knee near the start of Barcelona’s costly 2-1 win over Las Palmas that lifted the defending Spanish league champions above Real Madrid after the title hopeful drew on Saturday.
The club’s all-time leading scorer asked to be substituted in the eighth minute after he had tried to return to the match following a collision with a Las Palmas defender.
Medical tests at a local hospital found that he had torn a ligament, and the club said Messi will be sidelined for seven to eight weeks.
”This is a test and an extra motivation for this team,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. ”We have to accept the challenge and improve our performances because we are capable of it.”
Luis Suarez responded immediately to his coach’s call by scoring twice to help the hosts bounce back from their stinging 4-1 loss at Celta Vigo on Wednesday.
The blow to Barcelona was softened a bit when Madrid surrendered the league lead after it failed to get a ball past Malaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni in a 0-0 draw despite playing with an extra man for the final 13 minutes.
Villarreal moved past both powerhouses into first place and one point ahead of Barcelona and two ahead of Madrid and Celta after it edged Atletico Madrid 1-0 at its El Madrigal’s stadium.
Baptistao’s 14th-minute goal kept Villarreal unbeaten and secured its fifth win in a row.
Celta missed its opportunity to rise to the top of the standings after it drew 1-1 at Eibar. Iago Aspas canceled out Borja Baston’s early goal in the 76th, but his Celta settled for a point that kept it level with Madrid in fourth place.
Also, Sevilla substitute Yevhen Konoplyanka netted a free kick with four minutes to go to snatch a 3-2 win over visiting Rayo Vallecano that pulled the Andalusian side out of last place with its first victory of the season. Rayo had erased a two-goal deficit before Antonio Amaya was sent off with a second booking for the foul that set up Konoplyanka’s goal.
The Camp Nou crowd of almost 75,000 went from sharing a collective sigh to an eerie silence when Messi’s early scoring chance ended with him writhing on pitch.
Messi used an expert touch to control a long ball and streaked down the right side of the area, where Diego Bigas collided with the star forward, sending Messi to the turf.
Play was stopped for team doctors to check on Messi. He then went back to test his leg, but eventually asked to be replaced by Munir El Haddadi.
”The worst news is the injury to our best man,” said Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets. ”He asked to be changed because something was wrong, he doesn’t like not to play. I hope we gets better soon.”
Suarez erased some of the jitters among Barcelona’s faithful when he jumped above two defenders to head in Sergi Roberto’s crisp cross from the right corner in the 25th.
Las Palmas mustered a pair of counterattacks before halftime, but Suarez got what proved to be the winner in the 54th when he converted a pass from El Haddadi that Busquets cleverly let run past.
Suarez positioned Neymar to get another goal when Las Palmas defender Antolin Alcaraz handled his lofted ball in the area, only for the Brazil striker to fire his penalty kick over the bar in the 66th.
Las Palmas forward Jonathan Viera scored with two minutes left after Javier Mascherano lost possession of the ball.
In the capital, Kameni made a series of impressive saves, but none was better than the one hand he managed to get in the path of Cristiano Ronaldo’s blistering shot in the 48th.
Francisco ”Isco” Alarcon was inches away from Madrid’s winner when he volleyed a rebound of another Kameni stop through the `keeper’s arms, but Weligton rushed back to clear the ball from the goal-line in the 76th.
Malaga’s Nordin Amrabat earned a direct red card a minute later when he elbowed Marcelo in the face.
Ronaldo, whose five goals this season all came in a 6-0 rout at Espanyol, kicked the post after another miss before the whistle.