astonishing recent goal glut continued on Sunday when he struck
twice in a 2-0 win for Barcelona at struggling Racing Santander
that trimmed Real Madrid's lead at the top of La Liga back to 10
The three-times World Player of the Year took his tally in
his last six matches - five for Barca and one for Argentina - to
16, including a record five-goal haul in Wednesday's 7-1
Champions League victory against Bayer Leverkusen.
Real had to come from a goal down to beat Real Betis 3-2 in
Seville on Saturday, when Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice and
they set a club record of 10 successive wins on the road in
coach Jose Mourinho's 100th game in charge.
With 12 matches left, Real have 70 points, with Spanish,
European and world champions Barca on 60. Third-placed Valencia
dropped further behind on 44 after letting slip a two-goal lead
to draw 2-2 at home to Real Mallorca earlier on Sunday.
"We had to put in a lot of effort," Barca coach Pep
Guardiola told a news conference.
"We did things well on a pitch that did not help the
circulation of the ball," he added, in a reference to the poor
state of the playing surface. "They put nine men behind the ball
and that is never easy."
BAPTISM OF FIRE
Messi fired Barca ahead in the 29th minute at the Sardinero
when he slid in to turn a Cesc Fabregas centre into the net from
He doubled the lead with a 56th-minute penalty following a
foul on Fabregas, his 30th league goal of the campaign, leaving
him two behind top scorer Ronaldo, and his 50th in all
competitions this season.
He is only three short of his best haul for a season of 53,
achieved last term, and needs five more to equal Cesar
Rodriguez's club record of 235 goals at the age of only 24.
Winger Isaac Cuenca went close to a third for Barca shortly
after Messi's second, striking a powerful shot that cannoned
back off a post, before Santander goalkeeper Mario Fernandez
denied Messi a hat-trick with a fine save from the Argentine's
rasping left-foot drive.
"He is a different player to the rest of the world,"
Fabregas, who played in Barca's youth ranks with Messi, told
"It's a pleasure to play with him because it gives you that
extra confidence that all champion teams need," the former
Arsenal captain added.
"He is a very humble and hard-working player who simply
loves playing football."
The match was a baptism of fire for Alvaro Cervera, who was
appointed as Santander's third coach this season on Friday, and
the defeat left the club in 18th place on 24 points, three
behind Villarreal, who host Getafe on Monday.
Osasuna leap-frogged Athletic Bilbao into sixth when they
beat the visiting Basques 2-1 in Sunday's late kick-off, while
Atletico Madrid and Espanyol climbed to eighth and ninth
respectively after home wins against Granada and Rayo Vallecano.
Defender Miranda and striker Radamel Falcao scored in a 2-0
win for Atletico, while Nigerian forward Kalu Uche grabbed a
hat-trick in Espanyol's 5-1 drubbing of Rayo.
In a congested middle section of the table, there are only
10 points separating Malaga in fourth from Betis in 14th, with
Levante, Osasuna, Bilbao, Atletico, Espanyol, Rayo, Sevilla,
Real Sociedad and Real Mallorca in between.
Malaga are four behind Valencia on 40 points, Levante and
Osasuna have 38, Bilbao have 37, Atletico and Espanyol 36, Rayo
34 and Real Sociedad and Sevilla 33.
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