Barça win opens seven point gap
Barcelona swept aside Racing Santander with consummate ease at the Nou Camp tonight to secure a 14th successive Primera Division win and move provisionally seven points clear of bitter rivals Real Madrid at the top of the table.
Goals from Pedro, after barely a minute of play, and Messi - from the penalty spot - gave the Catalans a 2-0 lead at the break. Andres Iniesta ensured all three points early in the second half for Barça, who made it 55 points from a possible 60 in the league this season and shook off the relative disappointment of losing 3-1 to Betis in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday night.
That defeat was a blip for Barça following a highly impressive 28-match unbeaten run, but there was little danger of the Catalans being knocked out of the competition after they had won the first leg 5-0. Coach Pep Guardiola, in fact, said before this game that the loss in Seville would serve as a timely wake-up call for his side.
And their reaction in this match was immediate. Messi played a one-two with David Villa inside the area and sent an inviting chipped ball over Tono for Pedro to chest home from point-blank range after barely a minute of play. There was a hint of offside about the goal, but Barça's fans hardly cared.
Villa then dragged wide after 10 minutes when he should have made it 2-0. Messi thought he had done moments later, but the Argentinian's strike was correctly ruled out for offside. At the other end, Markus Rosenberg tested Victor Valdes with a fierce angled drive, but the Barça goalkeeper reacted superbly.
All smiles in Messi household
The home side were still on top, though, and Tono did well to deny both Messi and Adriano later in the half. But the Racing goalkeeper was unable to produce further heroics as Barça won a penalty after 32 minutes. Henrique brought down Villa and Messi - who had missed a spot-kick in the 3-1 defeat at Betis - stepped up to coolly slot home low to Tono's right.
The Argentina forward pulled up his shirt to reveal a birthday message to his mother, while there were celebrations all round at a chilly Nou Camp. Messi then saw a free-kick saved by Tono shortly before the break, while Villa missed a great chance to open his own account.
Adrian Gonzalez saw a powerful header saved by Valdes at the other end, but it was hard to see Racing getting back into the game. And it looked nigh on impossible as Iniesta made it 3-0 11 minutes into the second half.
Messi fed Villa in the area and the striker squared for Pedro, whose clever backheel from close to the penalty spot found Iniesta in space on the edge of the box to lash home a right-footed drive low into the bottom corner.
Villa came close again after 72 minutes and Messi almost scored a wonderful goal later on as he teased the Racing defence, twisting and turning at will, only to see his final effort well saved by Tono low at the far post.
Although short of the breathtaking best of which Barça are capable here and elsewhere, the victory was a comfortable one for the Catalans, who have a seven points lead over Real ahead of Mallorca's match against Jose Mourinho's side tomorrow evening.