Supersub Lionel Messi scored twice as nine-man Barcelona, with their 5,000th Spanish league goal, came from behind to beat Racing Santander 2-1 and move 12 points clear of Real Madrid. A Nikola Zigic penalty had put Racing in front on 56 minutes before Messi changed the game, equalising just five minutes after coming on and then scoring an 81st minute winner with his weaker right foot. Messi's personal goals tally for the season is now 16 while Barcelona, unbeaten in 20 games, recorded a ninth straight league win.
"You always know that Messi is capable of creating a goal and fortunately for us he created two," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "We had dominated, but without creating much going forward against a well-organised Racing side."
Valencia did their Champions League hopes the world of good with a 3-2 victory over Almeria. David Villa scored twice to notch his 16th and 17th goals of the campaign as Valencia moved a point behind third-placed Sevilla and three points ahead of Villarreal, who slipped in a 3-0 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna.
Sevilla, who defeated Valencia to reach the Kings Cup semi-final in midweek, suffered a 1-0 defeat at Sporting Gijon in Sunday's late match.
The home side overcame an early red card to Mate Bilic, and then a missed penalty mid-way through the first half, to claim all three points thanks to a goal after 16 minutes from Diego Castro.
Barcelona are the favourites for the cup after defeating Espanyol to reach the semi-finals and looked off the pace in the first half against Racing. Racing had the first opening after 11 minutes with Jonathan Pereira's shot hitting the post. In the 56th minute, Racing won a penalty when Rafael Marquez committed a silly foul on Perreira and Zigic cooly converted the penalty.
Guardiola responded by throwing on Messi, who had been rested, for Sergi Busquets on the hour mark and it quickly paid dividends. Five minutes after coming on, Messi equalised from close range after Xavi's header had come off the crossbar. Messi then struck again, controlling the ball on his chest before firing in a right-footed shot for Barcelona's 5,000th league goal.
"He (Messi) had two half chances and scored both of them," Racing coach Juan Ramon Muniz said. Barcelona finished the match with nine men after Marquez and Gerard Pique were sent off late on for cynical fouls.
Real had defeated Numancia 2-0 on Saturday for a sixth successive league victory and must again be frustrated that Barca collected maximum points. The game was an historic one as Real captain Raul scored his 307th goal for the club to equal Alfredo di Stefano's all-time goalscoring record.
"Raul could certainly get 400 or 450 goals as he is still young," di Stefano told daily Marca. "He is only 31 and could play until he is 37 or 38."
Atletico Madrid's miserable year continued as they fell to a 2-1 home defeat against Valladolid. Atletico have yet to win in 2009 and were jeered off the pitch at the Vicente Calderon.
"Am I worried about my job? I have a contract that I signed in front of two others and they haven't told me that it will end before the set date," said Atletico coach Javier Aguirre. "I have faith in myself and what I am doing and what the players are doing, too. I hope that on May 31 (the final day of the season) we are talking about something else."
The bottom three of Osasuna, Espanyol and Mallorca are locked on 17 points. Osasuna won their relegation duel with Real Mallorca triumphing 1-0.