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BARCELONA, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Lionel Messi produced a vintage second-half performance to help Barcelona to a 4-1 win over local rivals Espanyol on Sunday which allowed the champions to cut the gap with La Liga leaders Real Madrid to three points.
Luis Suarez celebrated signing a new contract with Barca on Friday by firing the home side ahead in the 18th minute with the help of a brilliant pass from Andres Iniesta and the Uruguayan struck again in the 67th after a mazy run from Messi.
The Argentine maestro cut the Espanyol defence to ribbons again to allow Jordi Alba to score the third in the 68th before capping the victory with a goal of his own in the 89th, after David Lopez had pulled one back for the visiting side.
Barca are second in the standings on 34 points, three behind Real Madrid who have played a game less due to their participation in the Club World Cup final this weekend, while Sevilla are third on 33.
Espanyol have not beaten Barcelona since 2009 although they went into the game on the back of a nine-game unbeaten run in the league, conceding only once in their last six.
Their positive form counted for little though against a Barca side who have rediscovered their groove following a slump in form in November.
The home side made their intentions clear when Suarez burst through the middle and worked the ball to Neymar, only for Messi to send the final pass whistling past the near post.
The opener came from a lightning-quick break which began with a sliding tackle from Javier Mascherano on compatriot Pablo Piatti and Iniesta produced a sumptuous diagonal long ball for Suarez to knock into the far corner with one touch.
In the second half, Messi seized a loose ball and skipped past five Espanyol defenders before firing at goal, his shot spilled by substitute goalkeeper Roberto and Suarez gobbling up the rebound to score again.
Messi produced another breathtaking run into the box a minute later, worming his way through four defenders and laying the ball off for Alba to ram past Roberto.
Lopez briefly silenced a jubilant Nou Camp with a well worked counter but Messi got the festivities started again with a fully deserved goal of his own, latching on to a generous chipped pass by Suarez to tap in the fourth. (Editing by Clare Fallon)