La Liga Roundup, Mar. 14

Gonzalo Higuain scored three goals and Cristiano Ronaldo struck the

other as Real Madrid beat Valladolid 4-1, while Lionel Messi also

scored a hat-trick in Barcelona’s 3-0 win against 10-man Valencia

in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Both teams stay level at the top of the league on 65 points,

with Madrid leading on goal difference. Valencia is third on 47

points.

At Valladolid’s Jose Zorilla Stadium, Ronaldo scored his 15th

league goal of the season in the 28th minute, placing a direct free

kick into the top right-hand corner.

In the 45th, Higuain volleyed in a long pass from Rafael Van

der Vaart, who was replacing the injured Kaka.

The Argentina striker then ran on to a header from Ronaldo,

stroking the ball past goalkeeper Justo Villar in the 58th minute

before completing his hat-trick by tapping in from close range

after Villar failed to hold onto a shot.

Madrid’s Raul Albiol scored an own goal when goalkeeper Iker

Casillas’ clearance rebounded off him into the net.

“They’re two brave, proud players who want to win,” said

Madrid director general Jorge Valdano of Ronaldo and Higuain. “This

is what makes them the best in the world.”

In Barcelona, Messi controlled a pass from Xavi Hernandez on

the edge of the area and dribbled past three men before firing in a

left-footed shot in the 56th minute. Things went from bad to worse

for Valencia when Hedwiges Maduro was sent off in the 70th for his

second yellow card after a challenge on Messi.

Barcelona’s Argentina forward struck again in the 81st minute

when he controlled a long pass on the right, cut inside and shot

past Cesar Sanchez. Messi’s 22nd league goal of the season came two

minutes later when he ran on to Thierry Henry’s pass to tap the

ball in.

“Today Leo deserves all the plaudits because the game was

very tight but he managed to crack the midfield,” said Barcelona

president Joan Laporta. “Valencia played very well, but we have a

great team and we had to work.”

Madrid still looked traumatized by its midweek elimination

from the Champions League at the hands of Lyon in the opening

minutes and struggled to keep the ball.

Relegation-threatened Valladolid took a physical approach and

Asier del Horno and Carlos Lazaro were both booked for early

challenges. Ronaldo repeatedly complained to the referee about the

hosts’ tackles.

However, the Madrid midfield gradually took control, with

Esteban Granero, Xabi Alonso and Lassana Diarra playing alongside

Van der Vaart.

Sergio Ramos drew a block from Villar in the 25th and Van der

Vaart had a shot saved in the 42nd.

Valladolid also looked capable of scoring and Casillas had to

dive to stop a Vitor Hugo Gomes shot which then bounced off the

post.

Valladolid had a penalty appeal waved away after Ramos

appeared to handle the ball in the area and referee Mejuto Gonzalez

booked Nauzet Aleman for complaining about the decision.

With victory ensured, Raul Gonzalez, Jose Maria “Guti”

Gutierrez and Fernando Gago came on for Higuain, Granero and

Alonso.

“The win was very important given what happened earlier in

the week,” said Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini, whose future at the

club looks doubtful after the Lyon debacle. “Each day the team is

improving its potential and the players prove to me every week that

they are heading in the direction I want.”

In the Camp Nou Stadium, Valencia striker David Villa was

absent due to injury, while for Barcelona, Bojan Krkic replaced the

suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic in attack, playing alongside Messi and

Pedro Rodriguez.

Coach Pep Guardiola had to watch from the stands after his

dismissal during last weekend’s 2-2 draw against Almeria for

dissent.

Valencia pressured from the start and Barcelona’s midfield

trio of Sergio Busquets, Hernandez and Andres Iniesta struggled to

find their usual passing rhythm.

Valencia created several early chances, with Jordi Alba

heading over from a Luis Miguel Brito cross in the fifth. Alba was

put through again later in the half although he fired a weak shot

at Victor Valdes.

The goalkeeper had to clear the ball from the feet of

Alejandro Dominguez three meters (yards) from goal in the 30th

minute.

At the other end, Sanchez had to dive to stop Gabrielo

Milito’s header from an Hernandez corner in the 22nd.

With Barca’s midfield struggling, Messi was clearly the

team’s best attacking option and after half an hour he robbed the

ball on the right and his shot went just wide of the post.

Sanchez did well to get a hand to Messi’s shot as the striker

charged in from the right moments later and in the 40th Messi burst

through the Valencia defense again before passing to Rodriguez,

whose shot went wide.

Just before halftime Manuel Fernandes came on for the injured

David Albelda, who had done well to stifle the Barcelona midfield.

During the break Thierry Henry replaced Krkic.

The change nearly paid off immediately as the France striker

crossed for Messi, whose first time shot went just wide.

Nicola Zigic should have equalized in the 68th when he

latched on to a ball behind the Barcelona defense and Valdes

anticipated his low shot.

Maduro’s expulsion helped tip the balance and Barcelona

dominated the latter stages of the game.

Also Sunday, Joseba Llorente and Damian Escudero scored as

Villarreal beat Xerez 2-0.

Llorente gathered a pass from Ariel Ibagaza in the 32nd

minute and shot low past goalkeeper Jose Maria Jimenez. Escudero

sealed the win with a superbly struck shot from outside the area in

injury time.

Villarreal is ninth in the standings on 36 points. Xerez

stays bottom on 15 points after its 17th league loss of the season.

Also Sunday, Tenerife beat Espanyol 4-1, with two goals from

Juan Francisco “Nino” Martinez, and one each from Ricardo “Richi”

Perez and Alejandro Alfaro. Joan Verdu scored a consolation goal

for Espanyol.

Fernando Soriano scored as Almeria beat Malaga 1-0 and Racing

Santander drew 0-0 with Zaragoza.

On Monday, it’s Atletico Madrid vs. Osasuna.

On Saturday, fourth-place Sevilla drew 1-1 with Deportivo La

Coruna, fifth-place Mallorca lost 3-0 to Getafe and Sporting Gijon

drew 0-0 with Athletic Bilbao.