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Football
Real Madrid maintain gap at summit of La Liga
Cristiano Ronaldo could only score two to Lionel Messi's three but Real Madrid keep ahead of rivals Barcelona.
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2012 23:04
Messi was on target three times as Barcelona sunk a new-look Malaga side [GALLO/GETTY] 

Lionel Messi scored a rare header in his hat trick on Sunday to lead Barcelona to a 4-1 win at Malaga.

The win put Barcelona just two points behind leaders Real Madrid until Jose Mourinho's men later repeated the 4-1 scoreline against Athletic Bilbao. 

Two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo helped Real maintain their five point lead over the reigning champions.

"There is a long way to go, all the second half of the season, and we will keep pushing all the way,'' Messi said.

Messi sparked the rout in the 33rd minute and then added two more after Alexis Sanchez had doubled the lead at the start of the second half.

Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and Carles Puyol were left on the bench, with Thiago Alcantara, Adriano and Javier Mascherano taking their place.

"He (Messi) has been playing at such a high level for a long time. These goals will help him in the games to come"

Barca boss Pep Guardiola

Barcelona have struggled away this season, with just one win in their previous four outings.

But once Messi found the net for just the second time away from home this season, the hosts had little trouble making Malaga look like the team they were before a $77.5 million overhaul in the offseason.

"(Messi's) greatest virtue is his consistency," Guardiola said.

"He has been playing at such a high level for a long time. These goals will help him in the games to come.''

At the Bernabeu, Cristiano Ronaldo converted two penalties as Madrid came from behind against Athletic Bilbao.

A youthful Bilbao went ahead through Fernando Llorente's 13th-minute opener before Marcelo levelled in the 25th.

Ronaldo stroked home a pair of spot kicks in the second half and Jose Callejon added a late goal to secure the hosts a much-needed win following their midweek 2-1 home loss to Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Ronaldo's league-high 23 goals is one more than Messi's total.

Elsewhere, third-place Valencia slipped to a 1-1 draw at Osasuna after being reduced to 10 men and conceding a stoppage-time equaliser to Manuel 'Lolo' Ortiz.

Mallorca edged out Rayo Vallecano 1-0, and last-place Zaragoza drew 0-0 at Levante.

Source:
Agencies
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