BARCELONA, May 1 (Primera Liga) - Barcelona took another step towards their first league title in five years after they beat Albacete with a Samuel Eto'o bullet and a delicate chip from 17-year-old prodigy Lionel Messi.
The Catalans retained their six-point lead at the top of the table with only four games remaining, but it could have been a different story up until the 66th minute with Albacete holding on at 0-0.
Eto'o managed to calm the nerves and then late substitute Messi gave a glimpse of what the world can expect from the latest Argentinian to be classed as the next Maradona with an instinctive finish.
Barcelona kicked off knowing that anything but a win against struggling Albacete would considerably increase the pressure on the team with Real Madrid victorious on Saturday night against Real Sociedad.
Barca coach Frank Rijkaard was able to welcome back Deco to the team, after having served his one-match suspension, but this time lost Xavi Hernandez from the midfield with a ban.
Albacete came to the Nou Camp more in hope than expectation of getting a result. They started with a strong defensive game by passing the ball around well at the back but giving few options to willing workers Antonio Pacheco and Mark Gonzalez in attack.
Barca forced the first real threat of the game after a quarter of the hour, when Deco hit a long range effort which went inches past the post. The home side gradually stamped their authority on the game with Rafael Marquez dominant in the middle of the park.
Upfront Eto'o still appeared rusty having missed the last home game through a knee injury.
He latched onto a delightful cutting pass from Ludovic Giuly but his first touch was too heavy, and Raul Valbuena was able to push the ball behind for a corner.
Andres Iniesta, though, had a great chance but he was unable to bring the ball out from his feet after being set clear.
Valbuena was proving to be a difficult obstacle for Barca as he blocked all that came his way, including a Ronaldinho free-kick which he got down well to parry. He then showed firm hands again as Marquez tried his luck from 25 yards.
At the other end, the home fans breathed a sigh of relief when Victor Valdes saved from Gonzalez one-against-one after a swift counter attack.
Barca continued to press forward but were struggling to break down a packed Albacete defence.
Valbuena blocked a raking Marquez drive and then tipped over a Ronaldinho header. It appeared as though it was not going to be Barca's day as Valbuena then denied Iniesta and Juliano Belletti shot wide from the edge of the area.
But Barca finally found the back of the net thanks to a finally warmed up Eto'o, whose shot rocketed into the goal off the far upright from 20 yards.
After the breakthrough, the azulgrana were able to relax and play with a certain calmness, but a further goal to kill the game off was not forthcoming as Albacete refused to crack.
Then with three minutes to go Rijkaard brought on Messi to give him a taste of the limelight and he did not disappoint. First he dinked the ball over Valbuena but the referee disallowed the goal with Giuly in an off-side position.
But the youngster was not to be denied and after being picked out by Ronaldinho he lifted the ball over the keeper for an accomplished strike with his left foot.