Real Madrid ward off Valencia threat

Messi helps second-placed Barcelona to an easy 4-0 win over Zaragoza

Real’s victory, courtesy of goals from Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo, maintained their three-point lead over great rivals Barcelona in second and lifted Jose Mourinho’s side to 31 points from 12 matches.

Spanish and European champions Barca widened their advantage over Valencia, the last club other than the big two to win the title back in 2004, to four points.

La Liga top scorer Lionel Messi struck his 15th of the season at a damp Nou Camp, with Gerard Pique and substitute David Villa also netting against their former club and Pique’s central defensive partner Carles Puyol scoring a rare goal.

An aggressive Valencia put Real under early pressure at the Mestalla but a lapse in concentration allowed Benzema to open the scoring in the 20th minute.

With the Valencia players still organising themselves, Xabi Alonso took a quick freekick and France striker Benzema brought the ball under control with his first touch and struck a rasping volley past goalkeeper Diego Alves with his second.

Valencia dominated the second half as the yellow cards came thick and fast in response to some robust tackling before Ramos outjumped his markers to nod home a 72nd minute second. Home striker Roberto Soldado made it 2-1 three minutes later with a powerful drive before Ronaldo scored his 14th of the campaign in the 78th and Soldado
poked in his second with eight minutes of regular time left to set up a thrilling finish.

In the earlier kickoff, Pique nodded Barca in front from a Xavi free kick in the 18th minute before Messi picked up a Cesc Fabregas pass in the penalty area shortly before halftime and sent a low, right-foot shot past Roberto.

Captain Puyol followed up his own saved effort to score a third some 10 minutes after the break and Villa, who replaced Fabregas in the 66th, put Barca 4-0 ahead with an acrobatic header 15 minutes from time.

Villarreal claimed their third victory of the campaign when Borja Valero caught Real Betis keeper Casto off his line with a lobbed effort in the 21st minute that gave Juan Carlos Garrido's side a 1-0 home win.

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