Barca open four-point gap, Real held by Almeria

AFP, Monday 17 Jan 2011

Barcelona opened up a four-point gap at the top of the Spanish first division on Sunday when they staged another sensational display of attacking football to sweep aside Malaga 4-1


Motivated by Real Madrid's shock 1-1 draw at bottom side Almeria earlier in the day, Barcelona were quickly out of the blocks and Andres Iniesta scored the opening goal after just seven minutes.
World Player of the Year Lionel Messi was running circles around the Malaga defence and the little Argentine set up David Villa to double the advantage, while Pedro Rodriguez added a third before the break.

Malaga had more possession in the second half and they pulled a goal back through a fine Duda free-kick.

But Barcelona raised their level again, and Villa latched onto a Xavi Hernandez pass to notch up his second of the night.

An Esteban Granero strike had rescued a point for misfiring Real Madrid against Almeria.
In stark contrast to Barcelona, the talk in recent weeks has been over Real's lack of fire-power following an injury to Gonzalo Higuain and although they saw plenty of the ball in midfield they were unable to create any clear chances in the first half.

Karim Benzema was brought on for Kaka after the break but it was Almeria who broke the deadlock on the hour mark against the run of play through Jose Ulloa.

Substitute Granero fired Real level in the 77th minute and in an action-packed finish Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post for the visitors with a free-kick.

"We dropped two points but looking at the first half of the season as a whole then we have done well," said Real coach Jose Mourinho.

"I also want to say that we want to win the title and not just have good results so we will have to wait and see what happens from here on."

Mourinho was furious with the referee who turned down a succession of penalty appeals.

"I hope that Perez Lasa does not referee our games again and also those of Barcelona. I do not complain about referees and I prefer to talk positively about them. However, I have known Mr Lasa since 1996 and the Lasa of 2011 is exactly the same."

Valencia beat Deportivo La Coruna 2-0 and their fourth consecutive victory means they remain two points behind third-placed Villarreal.

After a tight start, the game opened up following the break but it appeared to be heading for a draw until Jeremy Mathieu squeezed the ball home from a tight angle with 13 minutes to go.

Then Pablo Hernandez added another with a breakaway goal in injury time.

"We knew it was going to be difficult to get the first goal as we were playing an organised rival who are hard working. We still need to improve on the wings but we are now more optimistic," said Valencia coach Unai Emery.

A spectacular lob from the half-way line by Ruben Cani was the highlight in Villarreal’s 4-2 win over Osasuna on Saturday.
Villarreal went ahead through Marco Ruben and while Osasuna drew level through Krisztian Vadocz they were soon behind again when Cani spotted keeper Ricardo Lopez off his line and lofted the ball from the half-way line over his head.

Joan Capdevila and Gonzalo Rodriguez scored further goals for Villarreal with substitute Javier Calleja slotting home in between for the visitors.

Espanyol moved onto the shoulders of Valencia with a 2-1 win over Sevilla.

Jose Callejon scored a brace but the real hero was keeper Carlos Kameni who made a series of excellent saves before Alvaro Negredo finally pulled a goal back.

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