Mon, Jan 25, 2010 - Page 18 News List

LFP: Barca move eight points clear at top

AFP , MADRID

Barcelona striker Thierry Henry, left, makes an overhead kick while Valladolid defender Cesar Arzo looks on during their La Liga match at the Jose Zorrilla Stadium in Valladolid, Spain, on Saturday.

PHOTO: EPA

Barcelona moved eight points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga with a comfortable 3-0 win at lowly Valladolid on Saturday to round off an impressive first half of the season.

Two goals in as many minutes from Xavi (20 minutes) and Dani Alves (22 minutes) set the tone, before Lionel Messi scored his sixth goal in three games to take his season’s tally to 15.

Real, beaten 1-0 by Athletic Bilbao last time out, are now under extreme pressure to respond or risk Barcelona running away with the title.

It is exactly halfway through the season and Barca are still unbeaten and their tally of 49 points from 19 games is just one less than their record set last season.

“Two goals in two minutes changed the game for us and made it more comfortable,” Barca coach Pep Guardiola said. “We got 50 points last season and 49 this season so we are on the same track, but there are lots of games left in the season.”

The statistics make impressive reading with Barcelona notching 15 wins and four draws, while they have the best defense, conceding only 10 goals, and the best attack with 49 goals.

Barcelona become only the fifth team to go unbeaten for the first half of the season, joining Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol and Real Sociedad in the elite club.

With Sergi Busquets injured, midfielder Seydou Keita made a timely return from the Africa Cup of Nations following Mali’s elimination.

Keita spurned a good chance early on with a header, while Messi went close on 10 minutes before the breakthrough goal created and scored by Xavi on 20 minutes.

Xavi started the move with a neat flick and raced into the penalty area to volley in a pinpoint cross from Alves.

Alves was causing havoc down the right and scored himself two minutes later when his over-hit cross floated into the top corner and the Brazilian celebrated with a samba dance.

Valladolid had their chances, with Diego Costa forcing a fine save from Victor Valdes three minutes prior to Xavi’s opener, but there was a sense of inevitability that Barca would win after going 2-0 up so early on.

After 54 minutes, Messi, who at 22 became the youngest Barca player to reach 100 goals last weekend, finished a fine move, lashing home after a fine lay-off from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

In Saturday’s other matches, Deportivo La Coruna climbed up to fourth with a 3-1 home win over Athletic Bilbao at the Riazor Stadium.

Brazilian international Filipe Luis scored the opener on 49 minutes, but injured his ankle as he collided with the goalkeeper and was stretchered off with what looked like a serious injury that could potentially endanger his World Cup dream.

Compatriot Juca added a second after 59 minutes, before a Diego Colotto (79 minutes) own-goal tested Depor’s nerves in the closing stages, but Pablo Alvarez made it 3-1 late on and the Depor players held up three fingers as a tribute to Filipe Luis who dons the No. 3 shirt.

The win helped Depor put their 3-0 Kings Cup loss to Sevilla behind them and go fourth, a point above Sevilla and Real Mallorca.

Bilbao come crashing back down to earth after their 1-0 win over Real and stay down in seventh.

Earlier, Sevilla enjoyed a huge slice of luck as they ended a run of four straight defeats with a 1-0 home win over Almeria that moved them level on points with fifth-placed Real Mallorca.

Spanish international Alvaro Negredo scored the decisive goal on nine minutes to shoot down his former club, although the waterlogged pitch played a decisive role, with captain Wilmer Acasiete’s back-pass stopping dead on the soaked surface to gift Sevilla their crucial goal.

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