MADRID: A Lionel Messi four-goal performance gave Barcelona a comfortable 5-1 home win over Valencia Sunday to keep their thin LaLiga title hopes alive.
Real Madrid beat Racing Santander 4-0 Saturday to take a 10-point lead over defending champions Barcelona.
Messi scored twice in the first half to overturn Valencia’s early 1-0 lead before scoring his third late in the second half, putting in Tello’s parried effort into the goal to claim his 41st goal in all competitions.
A beautiful chip over Diego Alves with five minutes left rounded off the win before Xavi Hernandez came off the bench to score a last minute goal.
Athletic Bilbao scored three goals in four second-half minutes Sunday to beat Malaga 3-0 in a matchup of Spanish league teams with European hopes.
Malaga dominated the first half at the San Mames with 14 shots, but conceded in the 58th minute when Fernando Amorebieta latched onto a loose ball inside the area.
Mikel San Jose leapt over two Malaga players in the 60th to head in a corner from Gaizka Toquero, who made it 3-0 by volleying home Ander Herrera’s cross-goal pass from a tight angle a minute later.
Athletic is level with fourth-place Espanyol on points for the final Champions League spot, while Malaga is two points behind them.
Early season surpriser Levante dropped out of fourth place for the first time since November. The team is one point behind Athletic and Espanyol following a 5-3 loss to Rayo Vallecano to remain the only winless club of 2012.
Alhassane Bangoura and Diego Costa both scored two goals for Rayo to win its third straight match and move within two points of fourth place.
Also Sunday, Ikechukwu Uche scored two goals as Granada rallied to beat 10-man Real Sociedad 4-1, Victor Casadesus’ brace powered Mallorca to a 4-0 win over Villarreal and Sporting Gijon drew 1-1 against Atletico Madrid in new coach Javier Clemente’s first game in charge.
Like Levante, Atletico stayed a point off the fourth-place pair after nearly spoiling Clemente’s debut.
Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz single-handedly kept the hosts in the contest as he stopped seven goalbound shots in the first half, including three straight chances shared by Santi Cazorla and Jose Rondon after seven minutes.
The pair of Malaga forwards combined often. Iraizoz denied Cazorla in the 37th and the Spain international sent a shot wide minutes later. Francisco “Isco” Alarcon also forced the Basque ‘keeper to stay alert.
Malaga keeper Willy Caballero tipped Iker Muniain’s shot wide to set up the corner that San Jose converted to double the lead.
Herrera then dribbled free along the goal line before floating a pass to the far post to pick out Toquero, who was streaking in and impressively slid in to the push to volley home.
In Gijon, Roberto Canella redirected Adrian Lopez’s cross into his own goal to give Atletico a 20th-minute lead. But Atletico then conceded for the first time in seven games as Sebastian Eguren leveled in the 37th.
Radamel Falcao had six shots on goal – including a chance that was saved in the 83rd – but the Atletico striker couldn’t convert. Atletico coach Diego Simeone still maintained his unbeaten start, while Clemente, the former Spain coach who led Bilbao to a league-cup double 28 years ago, moved his team within six points of safety.
Mikel Gonzalez gave visiting Sociedad the lead after 10 minutes before Inigo Lopez equalized moments later at Los Carmenes stadium.
Asier Illarramendi was shown a red card for a tackle from behind on Franco Jara to leave Sociedad with 10 men to begin the second half, and Jara took advantage to score in the 57th with a neat move along the left.
Uche scored his first from a break in the 61st and his second from a similar counter in the 87th, one minute after Granada’s Guilherme Siqueira handled to earn a second yellow card.
Granada’s third win in four games moved it one point above Sociedad, and five points above the relegation zone.
Last-place Zaragoza plays Real Betis Monday.