Barcelona took another step toward their fourth La Liga title in five years as a hat-trick from Cesc Fabregas guided them to a 5-0 win over RCD Mallorca on Saturday.
Fabregas started up front in the absence of the injured Lionel Messi and made a welcome return to form as he also played a part in Barca’s other two goals, scored by Alexis Sanchez, as the Catalans restored their 13-point lead at the top of the table.
However, the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Eric Abidal as he made his first appearance in 14 months after undergoing a liver transplant.
The Frenchman replaced Gerard Pique with 21 minutes remaining to a rapturous reception from the Camp Nou crowd and coped comfortably with Mallorca’s limited threat going forward.
Afterwards, Abidal wanted to thank his cousin, who was his donor for the transplant just over a year ago.
“Thank you to my cousin, without whom I wouldn’t be here today,” he told Canal+. “Thank you for all the support to my family, my friends and all the supporters of FC Barcelona. I would also like to say thank you to all the people in the hospital that have fought what I have fought. Today has been a special day and I remember all those who are fighting like I was in the hospital.”
Any doubts over whether Barca would be able to cope without Messi against the league’s bottom side were quickly dispelled by two goals in a two-minute spell midway through the first half.
A lovely one-two between Alexis and Fabregas played in the latter to open the scoring, before the Chilean made it 2-0 after Dudu Aouate had parried Fabregas’ shot.
The same two players combined for another two goals before the break as Fabregas side-footed home his second of the evening on 37 minutes, before releasing Alexis with a fine pass over the top for the former Udinese forward to grab his brace.
It took the Spain international just a minute after the break to seal his first hat-trick for the club when he latched onto Andres Iniesta’s pass, before turning and firing low past Aouate.
With the game well won, manager Tito Vilanova then withdrew Iniesta, Fabregas and Pique with an eye on Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League tie with Paris Saint-Germain.
However, there was some more concerning injury news for Vilanova as Alexis hobbled off down the tunnel just two minutes from the end with what appeared to be a muscular injury.
Earlier, Real Madrid had continued their own good run of late with a 5-1 demolition of Levante UD.
The visitors had taken a shock lead through Michel just after the half-hour mark, but their lead only lasted five minutes as Gonzalo Higuain scored a goal-of-the-season contender with a wonderful volley from Xabi Alonso’s cross.
Kaka then put the hosts ahead before the break from the penalty spot and Cristiano Ronaldo made the game safe with his 29th league goal of the season six minutes from time.
Substitute Mesut Ozil twice scored from close range in the dying moments as Los Blancos also warmed up for their UEFA Champions League quarter-final second-leg away to Galatasaray in perfect fashion.
Real Sociedad strengthened their position in fourth as they stretched their unbeaten run to 12 games with a 4-2 win over Malaga.
Goals from Carlos Vela, Alberto de la Bella and Antoine Griezmann saw the hosts race into a 3-0 lead within the first half hour and Inigo Martinez added a fourth after the break as the Basques moved four points clear of their opponents.
At the bottom, RC Deportivo de La Coruna took another huge step toward survival when they beat Real Zaragoza 3-2 to move off the foot of the table.
Depor are now 18th and just one point off Zaragoza, who have yet to win in the league this year.