Lionel Messi’s week was dominated by fears over a knee injury sustained in the draw with Benfica, but the Argentina star shrugged off any pain to eclipse Gerd Müller’s 40-year record for the number of goals scored in a calendar year. On 84 goals coming into the tie with Betis, Messi took little time in grabbing his first to draw level with Muller and put Barça 1-0 up. The 25-year-old eclipsed Muller shortly after by finding the corner following Andrés Iniesta’s back heel – the Argentine’s 86th goal of an incredible 2012. Despite his strikes, Betis came close to winning a point, hitting the woodwork three times in the second half after Ruben Castro pulled one back before half-time. Instead Barça ran down the clock sufficiently and secured their 14th league win of the season.
Goal scoring records tumbled on Sunday night as Radamel Falcao made history of his own, netting five against a despondent Deportivo La Coruna. No Atlético Madrid player had ever scored five in La Liga before and Falcao became the first player, since Fernando Morientes in 2002, to score so many in a single La Liga game. Although the Colombian’s first was marginally offside, his second was a stunner from 20 yards that curled perfectly away from keeper Daniel Aranzubia. His third came from the penalty spot, a fourth was nodded in from a yard out and Falcao then worked his way into a shooting position for his record-breaking fifth. Diego Costa scored the other in a 6-0 drubbing keeping Atlético in Barcelona’s shadow but rooting Deportivo to the bottom of the table.
Mesut Özil scored two crucial goals as Real Madrid avoided another embarrassing result against Valladolid at the Estadio José Zorrilla. Madrid’s away from has been woeful this season, losing three already and fell behind twice thanks to former Manchester United striker Manucho. Madrid fought back, unlike against Betis in their last away league performance, as Karim Benzema scored the first before Özil equalised again before half-time. The Germany international netted a free-kick, generously awarded and graciously accepted by Real, which proved to be the pivotal moment. Unusually, regular free-kick taker Cristiano Ronaldo opted to allow Özil to take the set-piece – strange considering he had walloped one in against Atlético last week – which was a rare sign of unity within the squad this season.
Valencia wasted little time in appointing Maurico Pellegrino’s successor as Ernesto Valverde stepped into the vacant managerial role for the first time against Osasuna. Valverde had inherited a squad yet to win away from home but he changed that statistic immediately as Roberto Soldado’s goal was the difference between them and their struggling opponents. It appears that Soldado has finally found some form too having scored four in his previous three La Liga games and if Valverde can coax the best from him then Valencia could make a timely surge towards the top four.
On a winless run almost as lengthy as Queens Park Rangers’, Mallorca are in desperate danger of relegation. Even though they were at full-strength, Levante managed to record a comfortable 4-0 thrashing courtesy of some calamitous defensive play. Pedro Geromel gifted Obafemi Martins the first, falling over the ball in the Mallorca penalty area and David Navarro then scored the easiest header of his career, unmarked from a corner. Ruben Garcia finished off a neat move for Levante’s third before Vicente Iborra made it four as Mallorca failed to get anywhere near either goal scorer. The atrocious defending leavesJoaquín Caparrós with plenty to contemplate as Mallorca hover perilously above the bottom three.
ENHANCED ODDS: Get Italy, Netherlands and Belgium to win at 14/1