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Barca and Atletico both win, Valencia continue good form in Spain

Xinhua | Updated: 2019-04-01 11:06
Barcelona's Lionel Messi in action with Espanyol's Mario Hermoso, Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain, March 30, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

MADRID - The return to action in Spain's La Liga after the international break saw league leaders FC Barcelona continue the form they had shown before the hiatus.

Lionel Messi scored twice as Barca beat local rivals Espanyol 2-0 to take another step towards the La Liga title on Saturday afternoon.

Barca struggled to create chances against a well-organized Espanyol defense before Messi curled home a magnificent free-kick in the 72nd minute, although perhaps Espanyol defender Victor Sanchez, standing on the goal line, should have headed his shot clear.

Messi then side-footed home after good work from Malcom in the 89th minute to net his 31st goal of the season and confirm the win.

The game had been billed as a duel between Messi and Espanyol's Chinese forward Wu Lei, but Wu began the game as substitute and only played 25 minutes, while Messi was once again decisive.

Atletico Madrid remain second, 10 points behind Barca as they put recent defeats against Juventus and Athletic Bilbao behind them to win 4-0 away to Alaves in a convincing display.

First-half goals from Saul Niguez and Diego Costa put Atletico on the path to victory, before Alvaro Morata and Thomas Partey added to the scoreline in the second half.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane made some sweeping changes to his side's starting 11 as they narrowly beat bottom side Huesca 3-2 at home, with his son Luca given a chance in goal.

Huesca took the lead after just two minutes through Juan Hernandez, but Isco equalized for Real Madrid midway through the first half.

Dani Ceballos put Los Merengues ahead in the 62nd minute after a move started by Gareth Bale, but Xabi Etxeita scored a powerful header with 15 minutes left to make it 2-2. It looked as if Huesca were going to take a surprise but deserved point, but Karim Benzema scored an individual goal to break the visitors' hearts in the last minute of normal time.

Fourth-placed Getafe fell to a surprise 2-0 defeat at home to Leganes in the south Madrid derby.

The deadlock was broken after a goalless first half, but Miguel Santos' first goal for Leganes and Juanfran's goal on the break seven minutes from time sealed the win, and Leganes would have won by more had Guido Carillo not missed a first-half penalty.

The defeats for Alaves and Getafe allowed Valencia to take an important step towards a top-four finish when they visited Sevilla's Sanchez Pizjuan stadium.

Dani Parejo scored the only goal of the game in first-half injury time to maintain his side's climb up the table, while Sevilla's top-four hopes continue to slip away.

Paco Jemez was unable to celebrate his return to Rayo Vallecano with a win as Real Betis winger Christian Tello's 81st minute goal cancelled out Raul de Tomas's 34th minute opener for the Madrid side.

Levante are still in danger of relegation after a 2-2 draw at home to Eibar, while Keko's ninth minute goal was not enough to give Real Valladolid three vital points as Mikel Oyarzabal scored a 79th minute equalizer for Real Sociedad. The home side did get the ball back in the net in injury time, but the goal was controversially ruled out for offside.

Perhaps the hero of the weekend was Celta Vigo forward Iago Aspas, who returned from injury after playing just one game in 2019 to score two goals as his side fought back from 2-0 down to take a dramatic 3-2 win at home to fellow strugglers Villarreal.

Aspas scored a free-kick and a late penalty and ended the game in tears with the entire crowd in the Balaidos stadium chanting his name.

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