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Millennium Post

Catalans swing title race their way

Leaders Barcelona struck a potentially decisive blow in the La Liga title race when Lionel Messi scored twice in a 4-1 win at home to second-placed Atletico Madrid to move nine points clear at the top on Sunday.

The victory moved Barca 13 points ahead of ailing champions Real Madrid, who were surprisingly held to a 2-2 draw at home by lowly Espanyol.

Tito Vilanova’s unbeaten leaders fought back after Radamel Falcao gave Atletico a deserved lead. A magnificent strike from Adriano levelled the scores, and Sergio Busquets and a second-half brace from Messi completed the scoring.

Barca have 46 points from 16 games, Atletico have 37 and Real 33. Atletico made an impressive start, causing problems on the break, and after twice going close, Colombia striker Falcao put the visitors ahead in the 32nd minute with his 17th of the campaign.

Diego Costa stole the ball off Messi and fed Falcao who sped away and cleverly lobbed the advancing Victor Valdes.

Five minutes later, Barca were back in the game thanks to a thunderous shot from Adriano, who cut in from the right flank and fired in off the underside of the crossbar.

Atletico were struggling to break out of the area before halftime, and when they failed to clear a corner, Busquets calmly stroked home the second.

 Meanwhile, A late goal from substitute Juan Albin gave Espanyol a 2-2 draw against stuttering Real Madrid to create a bigger gap off La Liga leaders Barcelona on Sunday.

The pressure is now firmly on coach Jose Mourinho with the reigning champions unable to beat relegation-threatened Espanyol.

Cristiano Ronaldo equalised for Madrid on the stroke of half-time after Sergio Garcia had put joint-bottom Espanyol ahead on the half hour mark.

Two minutes after the restart, Fabio Coentrao put Real ahead but it was not enough as Albin slotted home from close range two minutes from the end.

Mourinho had already criticised his players for a lacklustre performance in a midweek Spanish Cup against Celta Vigo.
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