MADRID, February 8 – Samuel Eto'o scored twice as Barcelona beat Sporting Gijon 3-1 at Camp Nou on Sunday to re-establish their 12-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of the Spanish table.
Eto’o scored in the 23rd and 40th minutes to take his personal tally to 21 for the season with Valencia’s David Villa his nearest rival on 17.
Brazilian Dani Alves added a third in the second half as Barcelona eased to their 10th successive league win.
"Alves never gets tired and is an extraordinary player while Eto’o is helping us a lot with his goals and work rate," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
"We got our intensity back and switched well from defence to attack. There are fewer games left now but there are a lot of things that can still happen."
Champions Real notched their seventh win on the spin with a 1-0 triumph over Racing Santander Saturday, but they were jeered off by their own fans for clinging to the slender lead rather than going for a second goal.
Guardiola reshuffled the Barcelona backline with central defenders Rafael Marquez and Gerard Pique, called into the Spain squad for Wednesday’s friendly with England, both suspended.
Carles Puyol returned from injury and Uruguayan international Martin Caceres, a 16.5 million euro signing from Villarreal, had a rare start in central defence.
Caceres had a quiet night as Barcelona had Sporting on the back foot from the start and deservedly took the lead on 23 minutes.
Sporting had a corner but when the ball was cleared the hosts launched a lightning quick counter-attack with Andres Iniesta carrying the ball at pace before feeding Thierry Henry who crossed for Eto’o to tap in.
It was Barcelona’s 100th goal this season in all competitions but they weren’t resting on their laurels as Eto’o scored again shortly before half-time.
Picking up a Lionel Messi pass, Eto’o jinked inside before smashing his effort into the corner.
Alves made it 3-0 with a great solo goal before Gijon pulled one back through Kike Mateo three minutes later. Eto’o was denied a hat-trick by the post.
"We came here with the idea of giving them a fright but they gave us a fright," said Sporting coach Manolo Preciado. "When you are on the pitch you realise that this (Barcelona) is the best team in the world. They have everything – fighting spirit, physical strength and the right attitude."
New Atletico Madrid coach Abel Resino had a memorable debut as his side defeated Recreativo Huelva 3-0 to record their first win in 2009.
Resino replaced the sacked Javier Aguirre this week and the change of manager had the desired effect as Atletico closed to within two points of fourth-placed Valencia.
Valencia fell to a 1-0 defeat at Osasuna, who climb out of the bottom three.
Miguel Flano scored on 57 minutes to down Valencia who have lost their last five away matches and have not won on their travels since the beginning of November.
Atletico closed in on Valencia with Sergio "Kun" Aguero scoring after just two minutes and Diego Forlan hit a quick-fire brace to wrap up the points.
"We had a lot of opportunities to increase the scoreline," said Resino. "We scored our goals when their defence was off guard and we knew how to take advantage of that."
Villarreal stay two points ahead of Atletico in fifth after a 2-1 triumph over Numancia.
Giuseppe Rossi scored both Villarreal goals to secure a much-needed win for a team struggling to emulate last season’s second place finish.
"Before Numancia equalised we could have had five or six and the final scoreline should have been more," said Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini.