Messi inches closer to Mueller mark

Barcelona whip Bilbao to move six points clear of Atletico Madrid

Unbeaten leaders Barcelona pulled six points clear of chasing Atletico Madrid and set a record for the best start to a La Liga season when Lionel Messi scored twice in a 5-1 drubbing of Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

After an imperious Barca had crushed the struggling Basques at the Nou Camp, goals from Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil dashed Atletico’s hopes of a first win against their city rivals in more than a decade.

Jose Mourinho’s side, in third place after a poor start to their title defence, turned in a dominant performance at the Bernabeu to put last week’s defeat at Real Betis firmly behind them and their 2-0 victory trimmed the gap to Atletico to five points.

Fourth-placed Malaga slumped to a 1-0 defeat at Getafe, while 10-man Valencia’s 5-2 drubbing at home to Real Sociedad left them mired in 12th place and prompted the club to sack coach Mauricio Pellegrino.

With 14 matches played, Barca lead on 40 points, with Atletico second on 34 and Real on 29, seven ahead of Malaga.

The 164th league meeting between Barca and Bilbao was another stroll for Tito Vilanova’s men, who were 3-0 ahead by halftime at the Nou Camp thanks to goals from Gerard Pique, Messi and Adriano.

Cesc Fabregas and Messi added two goals after the break, either side of an Ibai Gomez effort for Bilbao, with Argentine World Player of the Year Messi taking his tally for the season in La Liga to 21 in 14 matches, eight ahead of Ronaldo.

The 25-year-old is now only one short of the record haul for club and country in a calendar year of 85 set by former Germany and Bayern Munich striker Gerd Mueller in 1972.

Barca’s record of 13 wins and a draw improves on the previous best start to La Liga of 13 wins and a defeat by Real in the 1961-62 campaign.

With Atletico resurgent under Argentine coach Diego Simeone, hopes were high they could secure a rare win against Real, who were under pressure after the defeat in Seville left them 11 points behind bitter rivals Barca.

Portugal forward Ronaldo ended a rare scoring drought in the 16th minute when his blistering freekick was too good for Thibaut Courtois in the Atletico goal.

The visitors barely troubled Real keeper and captain Iker Casillas and Ronaldo, who twice struck shots against the frame of the goal in the second half, played in Germany playmaker Ozil to double the home side’s lead in the 66th minute.

It was an impressive response from the Real players after some fans vented their frustration by whistling Mourinho during a King’s Cup match on Tuesday.
The victory extended their La Liga unbeaten streak against their city rivals to 22 matches, a run stretching back to Oct 30, 1999.

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