Spanish La Liga Roundup, Apr. 23
Real Madrid followed its Copa del Rey victory with a 6-3 drubbing of third-place Valencia while Lionel Messi’s 50th goal helped Barcelona beat Osasuna 2-0 on Saturday to remain on course for a third straight Spanish league title.
Gonzalo Higuain scored a hat trick, Kaka scored twice and Karim Benzema added to the tally as Madrid returned to Mestalla Stadium three days after hoisting its 18th domestic cup and first trophy in nearly three years with a 1-0 extra-time victory over Barcelona.
Madrid became the first visiting team to notch six goals at the Mestalla to maintain pressure on Barcelona, which failed to sparkle but did enough to stretch its unbeaten league run to 31 games thanks to goals either side of the half from David Villa and Messi.
Spain striker Villa scored his 18th of the season and first in 12 games in the 24th minute after stabbing home Jeffren Suarez’s perfectly curled cross at the far post.
Messi, who replaced Villa in the 58th, rolled home his league-leading 31st goal with three minutes to play to become the first Spanish league player to reach the half century mark in a season.
Barcelona maintained its eight-point advantage over Madrid with just five games to play.
"We can finish off the season strongly with the feeling that we can win at any ground," said coach Jose Mourinho, who called his club’s first-half performance spectacular. "Now let Barca win the league on points because we’re not going to gift it to them."
Like Madrid, Barcelona opted for a team made up mostly of regular substitutes after Wednesday’s grueling final. The Spanish rivals are playing four times in 18 days and meet again on Wednesday for the first leg of their Champions League semifinal.
"It was a tough game especially because of the physical drain of the other day," Villa told La Sexta TV. "We know we depend on ourselves in the league so we’re just focused on ourselves."
Barcelona’s thin bench may be in bigger trouble after defenders Gabriel Milito and Maxwell both limped out of the game with lower-body injuries which will be evaluated on Sunday. Center back Carles Puyol remains a doubt for the game at the Santiago Bernabeu, while fullback Adriano is out as is Eric Abidal.
"Madrid is not going to drop points so with two victories and a draw we’re champions," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "Their players have won a title and now they feel liberated."
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas and defender Ricardo Carvalho were the only holdovers in Madrid’s starting 11 and Valencia’s players adhered to tradition and honored the cup champion with a passage of honor as the teams entered the field.
Madrid showed none of the bruising, physical play that carried it to victory over Barcelona, but Higuain, who missed four months after back surgery, scored his first goal since November in the 31st. He scored again in the 43rd and 53rd as Madrid tallied six by the 62nd.
"We were ridiculous. The passage of honor lasted until the 60th minute," Valencia coach Unai Emery said. "What I’d like to do is go into hiding for the next three days."
Mourinho introduced regulars Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso late without effect. Mourinho was tired of talking about Barcelona, with which Madrid drew 1-1 in the first of its "clasico" marathon.
"I’ll think about that game on Monday," the Portuguese coach said. "Football is now over for me this weekend."
Madrid, which is 17 points better than Valencia, had the record for biggest victory at the Mestalla with a 5-1 victory during the 2007-08 season.
Guardiola held over four players in his starting 11 mostly due to injuries and a much shorter bench then Madrid’s. Defender Gerard Pique watched from the stands accompanied by pop singer and girlfriend Shakira.
The Catalan side failed to show its usual verve with the patchwork of players but Jeffren’s and Villa’s understanding was apparent for the opener at the Camp Nou.
Andres Iniesta and Xavier Hernandez also entered in the second half but until Messi sealed the victory, the three made little impact.
Also, Iker Muniain and Gaizka Toquero scored to lead Athletic Bilbao to a 2-1 Basque derby victory over Real Sociedad, which only scored through a Javi Martinez own-goal. Fifth-place Athletic opened up a five-point lead over Sevilla.
In other 33rd-round matches, it’s: Mallorca vs. Getafe; Sporting Gijon vs. Espanyol; Hercules vs. Deportivo La Coruna; Racing Santander vs. Malaga; Atletico Madrid vs. Levante; Sevilla vs. Villarreal; and Zaragoza vs. Almeria.