MADRID - Barcelona moved seven points
clear at the top of La Liga on Saturday after Lionel Messi
inspired the leaders to a 3-0 win at Real Mallorca while Real
Madrid were held to a goalless draw at Deportivo La Coruna.
World Player of the Year Messi conjured a magical headed
goal, his 26th strike this season, to set depleted Barca on
their way to victory while their second-placed rivals were
denied by a post and some resolute defending in La Coruna.
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Barcelona now have 68 points from 25 matches while Jose
Mourinho's Real side are on 61.
Barca made light of the absence through injury of playmaker
Xavi, centre-back Carles Puyol and goalkeeper Victor Valdes as
forwards David Villa and Pedro scored their 17th and 13th goals
of the season to add to Messi's effort.
Mallorca coach Michael Laudrup played for Barcelona in the
1990s with the Catalan club's current coach Pep Guardiola and
Barca had never beaten a La Liga team coached by the former
Danish international, who also had a stint in charge at Getafe.
The teams drew 1-1 at the Nou Camp in October, one of only
three matches in which Barca have dropped points this term.
Laudrup's players made a good job of closing their opponents
down in the early stages at their Estadi Iberostar before Messi
opened the scoring in the 38th minute.
Seydou Keita scooped the ball over the defence and Messi
controlled it once with his head to take it away from the
defender and, without letting it bounce, nodded it over
Mallorca's Israel goalkeeper Dudu Aouate into the net.
It was the Argentina international's 26th of the season in
La Liga and put him two clear of Real forward Ronaldo at the top
of the scoring chart.
Sergio Busquets split the defence to send Spain team-mate
Villa clear to round Aouate for Barca's second in the 57th and
Pedro cut in from the left and scored with a dipping shot to
make it three in the 66th.
Barcelona are now unbeaten in their last 19 away matches,
equalling a La Liga record set by Basque club Real Sociedad in
the 1979/80 campaign.
Real's expensively assembled forward line, including
Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema, struggled to
penetrate a well-drilled home defence at a boisterous Riazor.
Ronaldo and substitute Emmanuel Adebayor hit shots against
the post in the frantic latter stages and Benzema fluffed Real's
best chance late on when he failed to connect with a Ronaldo
centre just a couple of metres from goal.
Portuguese coach Mourinho gave a characteristically
theatrical display on the touchline, stalking his technical area
and berating the fourth official.
"Obviously it's a step back," Real goalkeeper and captain
Iker Casillas said in a television interview.
"We tried our best and created some good chances but the
ball just wouldn't go in," he added.
"Now we have to think about the Malaga game (on Thursday)
and how we can catch the leaders."
Earlier, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla missed a chance to
breathe life into their European qualification hopes when they
drew 2-2 at the Calderon.
The two clubs were touted as possible challengers to the
domination of Barca and Real in Spain's top flight but erratic
recent form had pushed them out of the European places.
Atletico twice came from behind to salvage a point at the
Calderon, but the draw will do little to ease the pressure on
coach Quique Sanchez Flores.
Espanyol climbed above Athletic Bilbao into fifth when they
thumped visiting Real Sociedad 4-1, while strugglers Sporting
Gijon and Real Zaragoza drew 0-0.
Depor are a shadow of the side that won the league in 2000
and the draw with Real leaves them only three points above the
relegation places in 13th.
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