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Barca dazzle without Messi

Barca dazzle without Messi
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Barcelona took another step towards their fourth La Liga title in five years as a hat-trick from Cesc Fabregas guided them to a 5-0 win over Mallorca on Saturday.

Fabregas started up front in the absence of the injured Lionel Messi and made a welcome return to form as he also played a part in Barca’s other two goals, scored by Alexis Sanchez, as the Catalans restored their 13-point lead at the top of the table.

However, the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Eric Abidal as he made his first appearance in 14 months after undergoing a liver transplant. The Frenchman replaced Gerard Pique with 21 minutes remaining to a rapturous reception from the Camp Nou crowd and coped comfortably with Mallorca’s limited threat going forward.

Afterwards Abidal wanted to thank his cousin who was his donor for the transplant just over a year ago. ‘Thank you to my cousin, without whom I wouldn’t be here today,’ he said in an interview.

Any doubts over whether Barca would be able to cope without Messi against the league’s bottom side were quickly dispelled by two goals in a two-minute spell midway through the first-half. A lovely one-two between Alexis and Fabregas played in the latter to open the scoring before the Chilean made it 2-0 after Dudu Aouate had parried Fabregas’ shot. The same two players combined for another two goals before the break as Fabregas side-footed home his second of the evening on 37 minutes before releasing Alexis with a fine pass over the top for the former-Udinese forward to grab his brace.

And it took the Spanish international just a minute after the break to seal his first hat-trick for the club as this time he latched onto Andres Iniesta’s pass before turning and firing low past Aouate. With the game well won, manager Tito Vilanova then withdrew Iniesta, Fabregas and Pique with an eye to Wednesday’s Champions League tie with Paris Saint-Germain.

However, there was some more concerning injury news as Alexis hobbled off down the tunnel in the 88th minute with what appeared to be a muscular injury.


FIVE-STAR REAL TOO GOOD FOR LEVANTE


Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain was the man of the match as a late flurry of goals gave Real Madrid a 5-1 win over Levante at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. Higuain opened the scoring with a magnificent volley and set Cristiano Ronaldo up to make it 3-1 with just six minutes left to play, before two late goals from Mesut Ozil gave a sheen to the final score that the game perhaps didn’t deserve.

Jose Mourinho went into the game with his attention firmly fixed on his side’s Champions League quarterfinal return leg away to Galatasaray and although Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso, who are both suspended for that game were in the side, others such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Sami Khedira and Rafael Varene were all rested. Madrid controlled possession against a side that was quite content to sit deep and defend 30 yards from goal and without Ronaldo the home side lacked the potential to surprise with a shot from distance.

Nevertheless they did create chances only to see Gistavo Munua save from Kaka before Javier Callejon fired over when well placed and Karim Benzema scuff a shot wide. Ronaldo came on at the start of the second half and Madrid began to rain shots on Levante goal. It looked as if the match would peter out before Higuain turned Ballesteros and set up Ronaldo to fire home from around 10 yards.
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