Four-goal Messi keeps Barca in the race with Real


SPANISH LA LIGA: Lionel Messi scored four last night as Barcelona came from behind to thrash Valencia 5-1 at home, to close the gap on La Liga leaders Real Madrid back to 10 points.

Pablo Piatti scored first for the visitors after only nine minutes, before World Player of the Year Messi led the fightback with two goals in five minutes to put Barcelona ahead by the 27th minute as Pep Guardiola’s side responded with some exhilarating football. Barca twice hit the crossbar before Messi bagged his third in the 76th, and he lobbed the fourth five minutes from time. Substitute Xavi lobbed the fifth at the end to move his side on to 51 points from 23 games.

On Saturday a Cristiano Ronaldo header had set Real Madrid on their way to a 4-0 win at home to 10-man Racing Santander on Saturday that stretched their advantage over second-placed Barcelona at the top of La Liga to 13 points.

Ronaldo’s sixth-minute goal from a clever Kaka assist was his 28th of the season in the league, putting the Portuguese forward five clear of Barca’s Lionel Messi at the top of the scoring chart. Santander lie 18th in the standings and were reduced to 10 men six minutes before the break when the referee ruled defender Domingo Cisma had handled the ball for a second time in the game and showed him a second yellow card.

Real doubled their lead in added time when a dinked Karim Benzema effort was deflected over the line by Santander defender Bernardo under pressure from Sergio Ramos.

Substitute Angel Di Maria netted the third goal and the best of the night with a 73rd minute left-foot strike form just outside the area. Benzema’s deflected effort made it 4-0 a minute from time to seal an 18th win for Jose Mourinho’s side in 19 league matches since the end of September.

“The best thing is that we have three more points and one less game to play,” said Mourinho.

ITALIAN SERIE A:AC Milan, kept the goals flowing with a 3-1 win at bottom club Cesena in Serie A yesterday. Sulley Muntari, Urby Emanuelson and Robinho scored in a half hour spell for the title holders and leaders before Daniel Pudil reduced the arrears.

Fabio Borini gave AS Roma a 1-0 win over Parma while Chievo beat Genoa by the same score. Novara and Atalanta played out a goalless stalemate.

Milan have 50 points from 24 games, one ahead of unbeaten Juventus who briefly held the lead after their 3-1 win over Catania on Saturday. Juventus have a game in hand. Roma’s win took them up to fifth with 38 points, above Napoli and Inter Milan.