LA LIGA

After handing out goals, Barça and Real fight back in record style

‘Pichichi’ top scorer contenders Ronaldo and Messi come to their teams’ rescues

Turf war: Leo Messi battling for the ball with a Levante defender on Saturday.
Turf war: Leo Messi battling for the ball with a Levante defender on Saturday.LLUÍS GENÉ (AFP)

Real Madrid was forced to fight back from a goal down against visitor Sporting Gijón to maintain its four-point advantage over Barcelona at the summit of La Liga on Saturday evening.

Straight afterwards, the Catalans then had to do the same at Levante to avoid the stretching of that lead ahead of next weekend’s crunch clásico.

What’s more, both clubs did so by once again recording a few more new entries in the soccer record books.

It was Argentinean Gonzalo Higuaín who headed in Real’s equalizer eight minutes after Miguel del las Cuevas’ 29-minute penalty, awarded after Sergio Ramos had handled in the area, had put the relegation-threatened Asturians in front. And after his midweek hat-trick against Atlético Madrid, it was once again Cristiano Ronaldo who spared Real’s blushes with a headed effort of his own to push it into the lead and equal his own Liga scoring record of 41 goals set last season. After Sporting defender Roberto Canella had been sent off for a second yellow card, substitute Karim Benzema’s 82nd minute strike sealed a 3-1 victory at the Bernabéu.

The win also meant Real equaled the club’s 107-goal scoring record set in the 1989-1990 season. “For those who say he is a defensive coach, those aren’t bad figures,” said Real assistant coach Aitor Karanka of boss José Mourinho, who again shunned the press room.

At the Ciutàt de Valencia stadium it was Sergio Busquets’ handling of the ball that allowed José Javier Barkero to put Levante in front from the penalty spot after 23 minutes. Lionel Messi finally broke down the Valencia team’s tight defense in the second half with a sweet 63rd-minute curler, before added a second from the penalty spot after winger Isaac Cuenca was pushed in the area for a 1-2 win. The Argentinean’s brace puts him level with Ronaldo’s record goal haul of 41.

The result allowed Barça coach Pep Guardiola to proffer a new twist on his now-familiar “impossible” response to the inevitable press conference question of whether his team can still win the title. Now, he answered, it is “less impossible, Will that do?”

Levante remains in fifth spot on 48 points behind Málaga, which failed to capitalize on third-place Valencia’s 4-0 thrashing at Espanyol on Sunday to move up. The Andalusians could only hold Real Sociedad to a 1-1 tie at La Rosaleda and remain in fourth on 51 points, one behind Unai Emery’s team.

In the relegation battle, Sporting’s loss at Madrid means it stays in 19th place on 28 points, two points above rock-bottom Racing Santander, which earned a 1-1 tie against 17th-place Villarreal with a 94th minute equalizer by Lautaro Acosta, and now three points adrift of 18th-place Real Zaragoza, which beat Granada 1-0 at La Romareda thanks to a fifth-minute strike by Croatian Tomislav Dujmovic.

Other results: Betis 1-0 Osasuna; Ath. Bilbao 1-0 Mallorca.

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