Mon, Dec 05, 2011 - Page 18 News List

Madrid, Barca boost ‘Clasico’ hype


Real Madrid’s Angel di Maria, right, watches the ball as he scores his team’s first goal against Sporting Gijon at the El Molinon stadium in Gijon, Spain, on Saturday.

Photo: EPA

Real Madrid defeated Sporting de Gijon 3-0, while Barcelona hammered Levante UD 5-0 on Saturday as Spanish soccer’s two superpowers warmed up for next weekend’s El Clasico by preserving their grip on the title race.

Real stretched their winning run to 14 games in all competitions and lead Barcelona by three points with the defending La Liga and European champions having played a game more.

Angel Di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo were on target against a Sporting side who finished the game with 10 men when Sebastian Eguren was sent off late on.

“We’re winning in different ways, with quality, with team spirit, with counter-attacks,” Real boss Jose Mourinho said.

Di Maria struck in the 35th minute. Ronaldo found the Argentine with a long raking pass which Di Maria controlled well before exploiting a mistake by Sporting fullback Damian Suarez to advance into the penalty area.

He then surprised goalkeeper Juan Pablo Colinas with a shot that squeezed inside the near post from a tight angle to conjure an important lead for his side out of nothing.

It was a full 30 minutes later before Madrid could relax and Di Maria was again prominent when his defense-splitting pass found Ronaldo, who rounded Colinas before slotting home his 17th league goal of the season.

Sporting then had claims for a penalty turned down after substitute Gaston Sangoy was felled in the penalty area.

Sporting’s Uruguayan midfielder Eguren received his marching orders on 79 minutes for a second yellow card and his side’s chances of getting anything from the game ended.

Brazilian fullback Marcelo increased Madrid’s lead in the last minute.

Barcelona eased past Levante to ensure they remain three points behind ahead of Saturday’s clash at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Cesc Fabregas hit two goals for the champions with youngster Isaac Cuenca scoring his second goal for the club, while Lionel Messi and Alexis Sanchez were also on target.

“It was an excellent performance from the boys tonight. I’m very happy for the two goals. Now is time to rest for the two important games next week,” said Fabregas, in reference to tomorrow’s Champions League clash with BATE and Saturday’s trip to Madrid.

“The fans can’t wait for next week’s game, but we are only thinking about the Champions League on Tuesday,” he added.

Barca dominated fourth-placed Levante from the start and it took only four minutes for Fabregas to break the deadlock when a clever Andres Iniesta back-flick found the former Arsenal captain in plenty of space to slot home with his right foot.

Fabregas extended the lead on 33 minutes, heading home a Xavi Hernandez free-kick, before a sweeping move involving Iniesta and Messi found Cuenca in space on the left to slot home for Barca’s third five minutes later.

Messi finished smoothly on 54 minutes when Dani Alves found him in space on the right to equal Ronaldo on 17 goals as La Liga’s top scorer.

Six minutes later Messi became the provider when he defined another flowing Barca move with a pass for Sanchez, who exquisitely chipped Gustavo Munua in the Levante goal.

Valencia stayed in third place, four points behind Barcelona, after Roberto Soldado came off the bench to notch the winner in a 2-1 home win over RCD Espanyol.

The result was the perfect tonic for Valencia, who tackle Chelsea tomorrow in a crucial Champions League clash.

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