Real Madrid and Barcelona exert pressure on Levante

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Real Madrid won 1-0 away at a competitive Real Sociedad on Saturday, with an important goal from Gonzalo Higuain, his tenth in the league this season, to go top of La Liga for 24 hours at least, two points ahead of Levante, who go to Osasuna on Sunday.

Earlier, Lionel Messi hit a first half hat-trick as Barcelona beat Mallorca 5-0, a result that has the Catalans one point behind Madrid.

Madrid’s goal came on nine minutes when Fabio Coentrao unlocked the home defence with a superb pass from the left-wing that eluded three defenders to find Higuain in sufficient space for the Argentine to simply lift the ball over the advancing goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. A closely fought first-half ensued with few chances for either team, although Madrid looked the more likely to add to their lead.

After the break Sociedad little by little came into the game and Iker Casillas had to be alert in the Madrid goal to save first from Carlos Vela on 61 minutes and then from Antoine Griezmann five minutes later.

The game therafter became a physical affair and Griezmann was lucky to stay on the field after an horrendous challenge on Sergio Ramos was only punished with a yellow card on 69 minutes.

Earlier, goals from twenty-year-old Isaac Cuenca and Dani Alves completed the rout for a dominant Barca in a one sided game after Messi had bagged three first-half strikes, taking his tally to thirteen in the league this season.

The Catalans started without key midfielders Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta or Pedro Rodriguez, giving Mallorca initial hope of taking something from the game.

All that was proven in the end was Barca’s strength in depth and that a long line of youth players await their chance with the current Spanish and European champions.

Within 30 minutes Messi had killed off the Balearic challenge and afterwards he was quick to answer critics who said he was lacking confidence after three games without a goal.

“It’s crazy that people said I was having a crisis. When possible I score, but the most important thing is that the team wins,” he told Spanish TV.

Coach Pep Guardiola was more interested in talking up the younger members of his squad.

“(Isaac) Cuenca has played well, he knows what to do out wide, for that reason we have a small squad so players like him and (Gerard) Deulofeu, who is still very young, can come in,” he said.

Only seven days ago the same Nou Camp crowd saw Messi miss a crucial penalty against Sevilla but the Argentine only had to wait 12 minutes to redeem himself from the penalty spot after a handball by Emilio Nsue.

The second came in 21 minutes when Cuenca, starting his first game in the Nou Camp, crossed from the right and Adriano played in Messi for a simple right-footed finish.

Eight minutes later Dani Alves crossed from the right to find Messi making a clever run behind the Mallorca defence and again one touch was all the Argentinian needed, this time with his left foot, to steer the ball home.

Again it was Adriano involved on 50 minutes. His pass found Cuenca, who finished from a tight angle for his first goal for the club.

That gave Barca the chance to take their foot of the gas ahead of a trip to the Czech Republic to face Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday.

Dani Alves wrapped the game up with a powerful bending shot from long distance in injury time.

Earlier, Valencia beat Getafe 3-1 to remain in fourth.

Two goals from Frenchman Sofiane Feghouli and one for Aritz Aduriz were enough for ‘Los Che’ who face Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday in a Champions League game they must win if they hope to progress.

Diego Castro snatched a first-half equaliser with a wonderful back-heel but Valencia deserved their victory.

Villarreal warmed up for their Champions League tie at home to Manchester City on Wednesday beating Rayo Vallecano 2-0 with goals from Bruno Soriano and Borja Valero.

Marcos Senna had a penalty saved by Rayo goalkeeper David Cobena but the much needed win was never in doubt, their first in six games.

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