Keita strike hands Barca victory

Mali midfielder enjoys rare start as champions Barcelona move ten points clear of Real in Spain's Primera Division.

    Keita's goal ensured a fourth straight victory for Barca who again extended the gap ahead of Real [GALLO/GETTY]

    Mali international midfielder Seydou Keita made the most of a rare place in the starting line-up to score only his second goal of the season as champions Barcelona moved ten points clear of Real Madrid in Spain’s Primera Division on Saturday.

    Barca fought hard to earn a 1-0 home win over Real Zaragoza with Keita scoring what proved to be the winner for the defending champions two minutes before half-time, tapping in a pass from Lionel Messi from close range.

    The Catalan side could have easily won by a more comfortable margin, but Zaragoza goalkeeper Antonio Doblas made a number of brilliant saves in the first half to keep his team close.

    Notching up their fourth straight win, Barcelona extended their unbeaten streak to 25 league matches, one shy of the club record set in 1973-74, and the result was the perfect preparation for Barca’s crucial European Champions League second leg showdown with Arsenal on Tuesday.

    Elsewhere, Pablo Hernandez scored twice to rally Valencia to a 2-1 win at Mallorca, and Atletico Madrid moved into Europa League positions through their 3-1 win over Villarreal.

    Pressure

    Real can trim the gap back to seven with a win at Racing Santander on Sunday, although they will have to do so without joint Primera Division top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, who injured a leg muscle in Thursday's 7-0 drubbing of Malaga.

    "Now they (Real) have the pressure," Barca midfielder Xavi said.

    "We dominated and kept the ball and we are on a good run," the Spain World Cup-winner added.

    "Now we just need to wait for Real to slip up. It's more and more difficult to win away from home."

    Coach Pep Guardiola was on the sideline after doubts that severe back pain would force him to miss the match. David Villa and Andres Iniesta joined him with their Champions League return leg game looming.

    Results & fixtures

    Saturday March 5
     Mallorca 1-2 Valencia
     Barca 1-0 Zaragoza
     Atl Madrid 3-1 Villarreal

    Sunday March 6
     Hercules v Almeria
     Levante v Espanyol
     Malaga v Osasuna
     Gijon v Getafe
     Athl Bilbao v Sevilla
     Santander v Real

    Monday March 7
     Deportivo v Sociedad

    Zaragoza's only chance in the first half came in the eighth minute when Nicolas Bertolo used his pace to get by Gabi Milito, starting for the injured Carles Puyol, but Gerard Pique recovered to cut off his progress.

    Otherwise, the hosts were in control, winning 77 percent of possession in the first half and pressing Zaragoza into their own area.

    Doblas blocked long strikes by Pedro Rodriguez, Xavi and Javier Mascherano, and Keita had a goal waived for offside in the 29th before Messi manufactured Barcelona's opener.

    Messi assist

    The Argentina star dribbled by two defenders to the end line before crossing back to Keita for his league-best 15th assist. Messi has 21 assists overall in this campaign to go with his 43 goals in 39 games.

    Both sides had scoring chances after the restart.

    Bertolo fired wide in the 51st after cutting back against Pique, who, in turn, had a shot cleared off the line by Zaragoza's Ander Herrera six minutes later.

    Barcelona goalie Victor Valdes - back after missing three games with an injury - bettered striker Florent Sinama Pongolle in a one-on-one situation in the 62nd.

    Zaragoza have lost six straight games to Barcelona and remain two points above the relegation zone.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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