Barcelona stayed hard on the
heels of La Liga leaders Real Madrid when Lionel Messi's
brilliance lifted a side containing several youngsters from the
club's B team to a 2-1 win at home to Real Sociedad on Saturday.
Real had earlier deployed close to their strongest team in a
1-0 victory at city rivals Getafe, defender Sergio Ramos nodding
in the only goal on a bitterly cold and blustery night at the
Coliseum stadium that lifted them to 55 points from 21 matches.
In the late kick-off at an equally chilly Nou Camp, more than
50,000 fans turned out to witness Barca's 10th victory in 11
home league games this season that kept them within seven points
of their arch rivals.
With Wednesday's King's Cup semi-final second leg against
Valencia looming, coach Pep Guardiola had opted to start with
regulars including World Cup-winners Xavi, Sergio Busquets and
Gerard Pique on the bench.
B-team players Jonathan dos Santos, Cristian Tello and Isaac
Cuenca were included in the starting XI, with Cesc Fabregas
taking on the playmaker role in central midfield.
Pacy 20-year-old Tello opened the scoring in the ninth
minute when he dashed in from the left wing on to a Messi
through ball and finished clinically past goalkeeper Claudio
Bravo, his debut goal for the first team.
World Player of the Year Messi, who had earlier been denied
by several excellent saves from the Sociedad goalkeeper, made it 2-0
in the 72nd minute when he hooked in a Daniel Alves cross before
Carlos Vela pulled one back for the visitors two minutes later.
Messi's strike put him on 23 league goals for the season,
one behind Real forward and top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, and
Sociedad coach Philippe Montanier said the Argentine had been
the difference between the two sides.
"Messi is a magician and anything can happen when he is on
the pitch," Montanier, whose team are 13th on 24 points, told a
"I know that Barca have been playing a lot of matches and
they had to make quite a few changes but they played the way
they always do," the Frenchman added.
The Spanish and European champions' night was spoiled by a
nasty-looking injury to Busquets.
The Spain midfielder had come off the bench only a few
minutes earlier before he sustained a deep gash below his right
knee in a challenge with Sociedad defender Carlos Martinez.
Initial local media reports said it was nothing serious and
he may be available for Wednesday's cup game against Valencia.
In the earlier kick-off in Madrid, Ramos rose above the home
defence to head a Mesut Ozil corner high into the net in the
18th minute as Real brushed aside the team who inflicted Barca's
only defeat of the season in November.
They comfortably held a toothless Getafe at bay and it was a
sixth straight league win for Jose Mourinho's side since they
lost 3-1 at home to Barca in December.
"In this league nobody is going to gift you anything and
each match will be even more difficult as all the teams have
objectives to reach," Ramos said in a television interview.
"The season is very long but the gap to the second-placed
team is a reality and we will try to keep widening it and
continue doing things well."
Fourth-placed Levante, Valencia's second club, missed the
chance to close within two points of their more illustrious city
rivals when they surrendered the lead and were held to a 1-1
draw at home by struggling Racing Santander.
A diving header from striker Arouna Kone put Levante ahead
in the 23rd minute before midfielder Manuel Arana levelled for
Santander just past the hour.
The draw leaves Levante without a win in six games since
they beat Sevilla 1-0 in December and puts them on 32 points.
Athletic Bilbao were on the verge of leapfrogging Levante
into the fourth Champions League qualifying spot but conceded an
added-time goal in an entertaining 3-3 draw at home to Espanyol.
Barcelona-based Espanyol are fifth on 32 points behind
Levante on goal difference, with Bilbao two points back on 30
and Atletico on 29 in seventh.
Real Mallorca climbed away from the relegation places when
Gonzalo Castro's splendid first-half free-kick was enough for a
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