Football Football

Barca maintain advantage ahead of El Clasico


NEYMAR-BARCAMADRID, October 13-Barcelona maintained their four-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga ahead of next weekend’s first El Clasico of the season with a 3-0 win over Eibar on Saturday.

Madrid cruised to victory earlier in the day as they secured a seventh consecutive win in all competitions with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice in a 5-0 rout away to Levante.

After a frustrating opening 45 minutes, Barca finally went in front when Xavi Hernandez dinked home his first goal of the season from Lionel Messi’s slide rule pass on the hour mark.

Neymar then volleyed home to double the hosts’ advantage before the Brazilian teed up Messi to drive home the third and take the Argentine to within one goal of equalling Telmo Zarra as the all-time leading scorer in La Liga.

“We struggled to make the breakthrough, but once you score the first one it is a lot easier,” Xavi told Canal Plus.

“Perhaps they were a bit more tired in the second-half, they had worked a lot defensively.

“We tried in every way possible and although it didn’t go in before the first goal, generally we played very well.

“We kept another clean sheet, which shows we are working well defensively as well.”

Messi was looking to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his Barca debut this week by breaking the record, but he was frustrated by Eibar’s massed ranks of well-organised defenders during the opening 45 minutes.

The four-time World Player of the Year should have opened the scoring on 20 minutes after a neat one-two with Dani Alves but Xabi Irureta’s trailing leg prevented Messi’s attempted nutmeg from finding the net.

Messi then flashed a shot inches wide from the edge of the area, but against the run of play it was Eibar who had two glorious opportunities to go ahead before the break.

Ander Capa had an open goal to aim at as he rounded Claudio Bravo, but passed up the chance to become the first man to score against Barca in the league this season as he could only find the set-netting.

And Bravo then had to come to his side’s rescue as he rushed from his line to turn Saul Berjon’s effort behind as he raced clear on goal.

– Floodgates opened – 

However, Barcelona finally broke through after half-time when Xavi and Messi exchanged passes before the former lofted the ball over the advancing Irureta to the relief of coach Luis Enrique.

The floodgates then opened as Dani Alves’s cross was thumped home by Neymar for his ninth goal of the season 19 minutes from time.

Neymar then turned provider as his cushioned pass into Messi’s path was rifled in off the far post by his strike partner to take his tally in La Liga to 250 goals in 285 games.

Only a fine save from Irureta in the dying seconds prevented Messi from tying Zarra’s 59-year-old record with a header from close range.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, ensured they will head into a big week full of confidence with another five goals at Levante, the fifth time they have struck at least five goals in their last seven outings.

Cristiano Ronaldo stretched his fine scoring streak at club level to nine straight games as he opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Javier Hernandez headed home to double Madrid’s lead before half-time.

Ronaldo powered home his 15th league goal in just seven appearances this season to make it 3-0 before sweet finishes from James Rodriguez and Isco rounded out the scoring for the European champions.

However, Madrid have a number of injury concerns ahead of their midweek trip to Liverpool in the Champions League, before hosting Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu next Saturday.

Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos missed the match, while Gareth Bale was an unused substitute after returning from international duty with a gluteal muscle injury.

Not that Ancelotti is overly concerned.

“I think we are arriving well into this week. We had a difficult game to prepare here, but we played very well and seriously. We were very concentrated and it all went well,” said Ancelotti.

“Now we have time to, firstly recover some players, and then think about the game on Wednesday.”