Lionel Messi notched up his 50th club goal of the season with a double on Sunday as Barcelona beat Real Racing Club de Santander 2-0, but the Catalan club still remain 10 points off La Liga leaders Real Madrid.
After scoring a remarkable five in the Champions League in midweek against a reeling Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Messi found the net in both halves, the second a strike from the penalty spot.
The Argentine has 10 more goals overall than Cristiano Ronaldo, although the Portuguese star leads the way in La Liga with 32.
Ronaldo hit a brace on Saturday as Real Madrid beat Real Betis Balompie 3-2 to maintain their surge toward a first title since 2008.
Barcelona have now won their past four league games and coach Pep Guardiola said that they are bouncing back after having so many players sidelined.
“We have been playing well for a while, but we have had to suffer from a lot of injuries, and while players have come in and done well, it still puts a greater strain on the team,” Guardiola said. “It was a good game from us and we managed well to pass the ball around, but it is never easy against a side who have nine at the back. We also had to be wary of Racing on the counterattack, which we were able to do. As we were 13 points behind Real, we just had to go out at 100 percent and give our best. Racing are among a group of teams that will fight to the end to avoid relegation and I hope they have a good end to the season.”
Barca, without the injured Eric Abidal and suspended Gerard Pique, started with a three-man defense which included Carles Puyol, who was passed fit. They quickly began to dominate a struggling Racing side who have not won in eight matches and who appointed Alvaro Cervera as their new coach last week.
Messi had a free-kick tipped over by the goalkeeper, while Andres Iniesta hit the top of the crossbar with an excellent chip as Barca began to find a cutting edge.
Racing were battling hard, and on occasions went overboard with crude challenges, but they had no match for Barca’s movement and passing.
Cesc Fabregas had a shot well saved by the goalkeeper before he set up Messi for the opening goal, with the Argentine sliding the ball home from the center of the penalty area.
Barca were knocking the ball effortlessly through the midfield, but they had to wait until the 56th minute to go further ahead from the penalty spot. Domingo Cisma was adjudged to have pulled down Fabregas and Messi sent the goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot.
Racing were unable to respond and Barca could have extended their lead with Juan Cuenca hitting a post and Messi, for once, having his shot saved when one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Champions League contenders Valencia continued to stutter as they squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at home to RCD Mallorca.
Valencia have now won just once in four games in the league, but they still have a four-point lead over Malaga, who beat Levante UD on Saturday.
They dominated the first half with Tino Costa’s deflected shot giving them the lead after 23 minutes. They then doubled it three minutes before the break when Mallorca goalkeeper Dudu Aouate made a hash of clearing a back-pass, playing the ball to Aritz Aduriz, who slotted home.
Mallorca had offered very little, but they got back into the game after 57 minutes when Emilio Nsue converted a through ball from Michael Pereira and then Victor Casadesus completed the turnaround minutes later.