Messi double helps extend Barca lead at top as Real slip up again


Leaders Barcelona struck a potentially decisive blow in the La Liga title race last night when Lionel Messi scored twice in a 4-1 win at home to second-placed Atletico Madrid to move nine points clear at the top.

The victory moved Barca 13 points ahead of ailing champions Real Madrid, who were surprisingly held to a 2-2 draw at home by lowly Espanyol.

Tito Vilanova’s unbeaten leaders fought back after Radamel Falcao gave Atletico a deserved lead. A magnificent strike from Adriano levelled the scores, and Sergio Busquets and a second-half brace from Messi completed the scoring.

Messi’s second of the night was his 25th in La Liga this season and 90th for club and country in 2012.

Espanyol substitute Juan Albin stunned Real with an 88th-minute equaliser as the Barcelona-based side grabbed an unlikely draw at the Bernabeu.

Espanyol had taken the lead through Sergio Garcia, but goals from Fabio Coentrao and Cristiano Ronaldo had looked likely to seal the win for Madrid before Albin’s late strike.

“You can’t say the league is over,” Real midfielder Xabi Alonso said after the game, “We will continue fighting, it will be tough, but we will carry on.”

In Italy, Juventus extended their lead at the top of Serie A with an easy win over Atalanta, who trailed by three goals and were reduced to 10 men after barely more than half an hour.

Andrea Pirlo’s goal from a curling, dipping free kick was the highlight of Juve’s 3-0 win as the titleholders went seven points clear of second-placed Inter Milan. Mirko Vucinic set Juve on their way in the second minute and Claudio Marchisio scored the third.

AC Milan notched up their fourth successive league win, 4-1 against lowly Pescara, while Luca Toni scored twice as Fiorentina produced another impressive performance to beat Siena by the same score.

Parma also won 4-1, at home to Cagliari, while Sergio Pellissier’s 87th-minute goal gave Chievo a 1-0 win over Roma.

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