Levante 1-2 Barcelona
Messi double saves Barca as Argentine joins Cristiano Ronaldo on record 41 La Liga goals
Pep Guardiola's men were awarded a contentious spot kick as they came from behind to beat the Granotas and narrow the gap once again on league leaders Real Madrid
Barcelona had a controversial penalty to thank as they ground out a narrow 2-1 win at Levante to close the gap on Liga leaders Real Madrid back to four points ahead of next weekend's Clasico meeting.
Jose Barkero gave the home team a surprise lead with a penalty before Lionel Messi levelled with half an hour to go. The Argentine then stepped up to score a spot kick to bring his league tally this campaign to 41 goals, joining Cristiano Ronaldo in breaking the Portuguese's record of 40 from last term.
Barcelona started the game brightly and after some early spells in possession, forged their first opportunity on goal in the 10th minute. Alexis Sanchez's cross found Thiago Alcantara in the box six yards out yet the midfielder could only flick his header wide of the mark.
Nine minutes later Thiago should have done better again with his head following Messi's inviting free kick. The young midfielder was able to ghost past his marker but headed his effort straight into the grateful arms of Gustavo Munua.
In the 22nd minute the home side were awarded a penalty against the run of play. Barkero's corner was parried by Victor Valdes with Juanfran's follow-up striking the hand of Sergio Busquets, earning the defensive midfielder a yellow card in the process. Barkero calmly stepped up to slam the ball down the centre of the goal with Valdes diving to his left.
Despite the Blaugrana continuing to dominate possession, they could have gone into half-time two goals down when Levante created a glorious chance in the 38th minute. Adriano and Valdo's collision left Pedro Lopez with plenty of space to attack the Barca goal down the wing. The full-back cut infield before dragging his shot narrowly wide of the goal from the edge of the box.
Although the Catalan giants kept possession well in the early stages of the second half, a sloppy pass from Thiago nearly allowed Levante to double their lead. Arouna Kone took the ball off the Spain international before charging upfield and sliding it to Barkero in the Barca penalty area. The playmaker attempted to play the return ball with Valdes out of his goal but Carles Puyol was on hand to mop up the danger.
With Barcelona stepping up the tempo they got their just reward in the 64th minute when Messi equalised. The Argentine played a clever one-two with Alexis before curling the ball into the far corner of the net from the edge of the box - the attacker now scoring in 10 consecutive Liga games, equalling a record held by Ronaldo and Mariano Martin.
On 71 minutes Guardiola's men were awarded a controversial penalty after Isaac Cuenca and Pedro Botelho collided in the box with the assistant referee flagging for a spot kick to be given. Messi stepped up to smash the ball into the top corner, sending Munua the wrong way to draw level with Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the Pichichi prize awarded to La Liga's top goalscorer. Both men are now on 41 Liga goals this term.
Levante attempted to fight back yet Barca comfortably saw out the game to claim a priceless win in Valencia.
Barca now travel to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Chelsea before welcoming Real Madrid to Camp Nou next weekend in a pivotal Primera Division clash, while Levante are next in action at Sevilla on April 21.
Real Madrid 3-1 Sporting Gijon
Cristiano Ronaldo records 41st La Liga strike as Los Blancos reach 107 goals
Mourinho's side moves seven points clear of Barcelona in the hunt of its first La Liga title in four years.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s 41st La Liga goal helped move Real Madrid seven points clear of Barcelona at the summit of the Spanish Primera Division as the team came from behind to deny a valiant Sporting Gijon side at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Los Blancos found themselves behind when Sergio Ramos handled in the penalty area gifting Miguel de las Cuevas the chance to fire the visiting team ahead from the resulting spot kick, which the Argentinean duly obliged in doing.
Jose Mourinho’s side responded seven minutes later when Ramos, making amends for his earlier error, found Gonzalo Higuain with a superb cross to nod home. Ronaldo completed the turnaround in the 73rd minute before Karim Benzema scored the third late on.
In a tiresome opening that was broken up by constant stoppages Madrid was unable to find its usual rhythm as Sporting remained defensively sound continuously frustrating the home side.
Despite Real Madrid’s dominance in the early stages the best chance fell to Trejo after the visitors launched a quick breakaway. Alvaro Arbeloa was pressured into a mistake by the midfielder allowing the Sporting man a sight of goal but could only muster a tame effort that Iker Casillas comfortable saved.
The fabric of the tie continued with Madrid dominating, as both Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo tried their luck with long range efforts but neither truly tested Juan Pablo. The Asturians offering little as an attacking force suddenly sensed an opportunity when Trejo burst through forcing the Madrid defense to retreat. The Argentinean looked to cut inside to fashion himself a shooting opportunity only to be denied by Sergio Ramos’ arm resulting in the visitors being awarded a spot kick.
Miguel de las Cuevas, the sole goal scorer in this fixture last season, stepped up to emphatically fire Sporting ahead stunning the Bernabeu faithful.
Jose Mourinho’s side continued to be frustrated by Los Rojiblancos’ diligent defending but were finally rewarded seven minutes after falling behind. Ramos delivered a superb cross toward the far post where Higuain had managed to steal a yard giving him the room to divert the ball home with a glancing header.
Los Blancos came close to going ahead prior to the break but Nuri Sahin’s wonderful free kick clipped the top of the crossbar as the sides went into the interval level.
The significance of the match was realized on the Real Madrid bench at the break as Mourinho opted to introduced Benzema and Angel Di Maria in the hope of finding a second goal.
Similarly to the first half Madrid controlled the early exchanges as they looked to force an opening but the northerner’s defense remained resolute as the home side’s best chances came from set pieces but Ronaldo failed to convert any of them despite his recent heroics.
As the match entered into the final furlong Sporting began to slow the tempo in the hope of frustrating the Madridistas, but it was in vain as the home side’s pressure told 17 minutes from time. Di Maria worked space allowing him to swing in a cross that found Ronaldo unmarked and the Portugal international beautifully directed his header into the back of the net via the base of the far post.
Sporting Gijon’s resilience was finally undone in the 81st minute when Mesut Ozil slipped a gorgeous ball through to Benzema. The Frenchman, from an acute angle, thrashed his finish past Juan Pablo into the opposite corner as Mourinho’s side notched their 107th goal of the campaign equaling the record held by John Toshack’s 1989-90 team.
Marcelo and Benzema both wasted late opportunities to find the 108th goal but Madrid will know that heading into next week's El Clasico that it will be a minimum of four points clear of Barca, while Sporting continues to look destined for the drop.