Barça, Atlético maintain Liga pace

Leaders both win as domestic action resumes

Barcelona's Alexis celebrates one of his three goals against Elche.
Barcelona's Alexis celebrates one of his three goals against Elche. Manu Fernandez (AP)

Atlético Madrid began 2014 as it had ended the previous year, picking up three points — this time in Málaga — to maintain its challenge for the leadership of La Liga. However, it was not a stroll in the park for Diego Simeone's side, which has matched reigning champion Barcelona goal-for-goal so far this season. Koke, a target for many of Europe's top clubs in the winter transfer window, grabbed the only goal of the game to send Atlético top overnight Saturday on 49 points, with a goal difference just one shy of Gerardo Martino's side.

A day later, Barcelona hosted Elche — the newly promoted club's first league match at Camp Nou in a quarter of a century — and wasted little time in asserting its continuing authority over proceedings. In the absence of Leo Messi, and with Neymar confined to the bench, Pedro added another to his tally for 2013-14, which now stands at 15, making him the team's highest scorer in the campaign. Alexis Sánchez provided the opener as Elche crumbled in the opening 15 minutes, leaving the end result in little doubt — the Chilean went on to bag a hat-trick in a 4-0 win. Thus, Barcelona again leapfrogged Atlético to the top of the table, with the two sides set to face off next weekend at the Vicente Calderón.

Meanwhile, new Valencia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi oversaw his first game in charge of the Mestalla club, a 2-0 derby win over regional rival Levante.

Other results: Sevilla 3-0 Getafe; Valladolid 0-0 Betis; Almería 3-0 Granada.

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