Not a week passes without another milestone surpassed by Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi as he reached 300 goals for Barcelona in their 2-1 win over Granada – he now has 301 goals in just 365 Barcelona appearances. The diminutive Argentine scored his 300th to level the game, scoring 14 consecutive matches, after Jude Ighalo had given Granada a shock first-half lead. Messi then scored his 301st with a quality free-kick just 15 minutes from the end to seal the win and keep Barcelona on course to reclaim the La Liga title, with a 12 point lead over Atlético Madrid. Barcelona will travel to the San Siro on Wednesday to face AC Milan in the Champions League.
Real Madrid were leading Rayo Vallecano 2-0 after 12 minutes at the Bernabéu, thanks to goals from Álvaro Morata and Sergio Ramos, and looked keen to add to their tally as the match wore on. However, referee Jose Paradas booked stand-in skipper Ramos twice in the space of a minute for two soft fouls and effectively prevented Madrid from dominating the visitors. First he cautioned Ramos for a slight push on Leo Baptistao before a cross struck the full-back’s arm just 42 seconds later, resulting in a red with 73 minutes remaining. Paradas then failed to book other players for similar incidents and missed a number of dives from Baptistao. Luckily for Madrid though, Paradas missed a naughty stamp from Pepe and a blatant handball in the area from Fabio Coentrao early in the second half. Nevertheless, this failed to quell José Mourinho’s anger as the game progressed and highlighted the poor level of refereeing in La Liga.
Not since the 18 November had Atlético won away in the league but their emphatic victory over Real Valladolid signalled they were back to their best. Atlético lost at home in mid-week for the first time this season as Rubin Kazan left with a two-goal lead in the first leg of their Europa League tie but Diego Simeone’s men responded in the perfect way with the 3-0 win. Radamel Falcao scored after 10 minutes from close range, his 20th of the season to give Atlético an early lead in Valladolid. Diego Costa, on his return to the side following suspension, then doubled the lead on 53 minutes before Cristian Rodriguez pounced on some poor defending in stoppage time. It was the first time since September that Atlético had scored more than one goal away from home and keeps them four points ahead of Real Madrid.
Having picked up 19 points from their last eight games, Espanyol along with Barcelona and Valencia, lead the La Liga form table following Javier Aguirre’s revolution. Espanyol had only collected two points from the opening eight games of the season and looked favourites for relegation but are now just six points shy of a Europa League spot and comfortable in mid-table for the moment. Sergio García’s sixth-minute strike proved to be the winner as Betis lost ground in their chase for the Champions League but the revival under Aguirre continued. It’d be extremely unlikely but considering Espanyol are closer to Europe than relegation, it’d be a shame for them to target league consolidation over a late charge towards the top six.
Malaga travel to Porto on Tuesday for their maiden Champions League knock-out encounter and will go in confident mood following their weekend win over Athletic Bilbao. On loan Chelsea winger Lucas Piazon earned rave reviews in the display and set up Javier Saviola for the only goal of the game. Piazon’s excellent reverse pass was met by the former Barcelona striker after an enterprising run into the box from the 19-year-old Brazilian. But it wasn’t just Piazon who excelled as goalkeeper Willy Caballero, who has been arguably Malaga’s saviour this season, made some superb stops to deny Bilbao’s Aduriz and Ibai Gomez to record his tenth clean sheet in the league this season. He currently leads the running for the Zamora trophy (awarded to the best goalkeeper of the season by Spanish newspaper Marca) ahead of Victor Valdes and Thibaut Courtois and has been a vital player in Malaga’s historic season so far.
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