Barcelona draws with Sevilla, Madrid routs Malaga

AP, Saturday 22 Oct 2011

Barcelona was held to a 0-0 draw by Sevilla on Saturday, letting Real Madrid take the overnight lead in the Spanish league after Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick in 15 first-half minutes of a 4-0 rout against Malaga

Ronaldo celebrates his hat-trick against Malaga. (Photo: Reuters)

The defending champions looked set to snatch a victory in injury time when Andres Iniesta was fouled in the area, but Sevilla goalkeeper Javi Varas stopped Lionel Messi’s penalty to cap his excellent performance of nine saves.

“All penalties are complicated, and both luck and all the work you have put in play a part,” Varas said. “But I have to give credit to my teammates. The merit is of all the team.”

Madrid had no such problems at big-spending Malaga, as Angel Di Maria assisted on goals by fellow Argentina international Gonzalo Higuain and Ronaldo, before the Portugal forward added two more to decide the game before halftime.

The win put Madrid one point ahead of Barcelona atop the standings and two points ahead of Levante, which travels to Villarreal on Sunday in search of its sixth straight victory.

“There is no comparison between the two halves,” said Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, whose team has outscored its opponents 25-3 in six straight wins in all competitions. “The first half was fantastic. Later I knew it would be impossible to repeat it. Our concentration lagged, and their pride came out.”

Elsewhere, Sporting Gijon beat Granada 2-0 for its first win of the season, while Sergio Garcia’s second-half goal dropped the winless Racing Santander into last place as Espanyol won 1-0 for its second straight away victory.

Expectations were high in Malaga after Qatari owner Sheik Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani spent ?60 million to overhaul the squad this summer, but Madrid easily showed the Costa del Sol side is still far from challenging the league’s traditional powerhouse.

Mourinho continued to alternate strikers, with Higuain returning to the starting 11 as Karim Benzema began on the bench despite his strong performance in a 4-0 win over Lyon midweek in the Champions League.

Higuain soon proved his coach’s choice was the right one when he reached Di Maria’s pass in the 11th, rounded goalkeeper Ruben Martinez with one touch, and rolled home the visitors’ opener for his ninth goal of the season.

Madrid camped in Malaga’s half from the start and had little trouble snuffing out any attempts at counterattacking.

“I liked everything about (my team),” said Mourinho. “Our first touch, second pass, when we lost the ball we pressed a lot. We scored in a variety of ways. I liked every facet of the game.”

Ronaldo quickly decided the encounter to emphatically break his three-game scoring drought.

Last season’s top scorer tapped in a beautiful curling cross from Di Maria in the 22nd, and six minutes later he took advantage of the shell-shocked Malaga when he rifled in a right footer from the edge of the area.

Ronaldo capped his treble in the 38th with an acrobatic move to redirect a headed pass by Sergio Ramos with the bottom of his right boot, drawing level with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi as the league’s top scorers with 10 goals apiece.

At Camp Nou, Barcelona controlled more than 70 percent of possession, but could not break through the undefeated Sevilla’s disciplined defense.

The opening stages of the game were evenly matched as Iniesta drew the first of many saves from Varas while Spain winger Jesus Navas forced Barcelona’s Victor Valdes to make a pair of blocks.

Barcelona slowly established its control-based passing game, with Dani Alves’ overlapping runs providing danger from the right flank as Messi and Iniesta tried to penetrate through the center of the defense.

Messi, Adriano and David Villa all came close as Barcelona pressed the visitors’ back into their area before Iniesta hit the crossbar in the 73rd.

Tempers flared after Iniesta was fouled by defender Federico Fazio in the area in added time, with Sevilla’s Frederic Kanoute and Fernando Navarro both receiving red cards for protesting.

But Varas anticipated Messi’s spot kick by diving to his left side.

“We knew that getting a good result here was very complicated. Other teams have left here with a rout,” said Varas, who has kept a clean sheet five times this season for the fourth-place Sevilla.

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