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Football

Three's a crowd in La Liga

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid both win to go joint top of the Spanish Primera Division by one point ahead of Real.

Last updated: 26 Jan 2014 22:43
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Xavi acknowledges the Nou Camp crowd before his 700th match for Barcelona [EPA]

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid climbed back to the top of La Liga as Barca coasted to a 3-0 victory at home to Malaga and Atletico won 4-2 at Rayo Vallecano.

Real Madrid had claimed the overnight lead thanks to Saturday's 2-0 home success against Granada before Barca and Atletico restored their one-point advantage with comfortable wins against outclassed opponents.

The joint leaders have 54 points from 21 matches, with Barca ahead on goal difference. Real are on 53 and Athletic Bilbao trail on 42 in fourth after they thrashed Osasuna 5-1 on Sunday.

The Barca fans paid tribute to veteran midfielder Xavi before kickoff at the Nou Camp after he reached the milestone of 700 official games for the Spanish champions earlier this month.

The Spain playmaker turned in a typically impeccable performance controlling play in the centre and Malaga were forced to rely on the counter attack to have any hope of troubling the hosts.

Barca's Chile forward Alexis Sanchez clipped the post in the fifth minute and Lionel Messi sent a dinked effort narrowly wide in the 22nd before Gerard Pique fired in the opener five minutes before half time.

The Spain centre back, who scored the equaliser in last weekend's 1-1 draw at Levante, controlled the ball in the area from a Xavi corner and drilled it past Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero.

Free Pedro

Pique headed against a post from another corner in the 54th minute and moments later Messi freed Pedro on the left of the area and he curled a shot into the corner.

Pedro turned provider just after the hour when he picked up another Messi pass and sent a low centre to the far post where Alexis tapped home.

An easy win was just the tonic Barca needed after a difficult week when president Sandro Rosell stepped down amid a probe into alleged irregularities in the signing of Brazil forward Neymar last year.

Rosell's deputy Josep Bartomeu has taken charge and was watching from the VIP tribune.

Spain's record scorer David Villa set Atletico on their way in the eighth minute at Rayo's Vallecas stadium in the Madrid suburbs when he struck a first-time shot high into the net from Diego Costa's neat layoff.

Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saved a 12th-minute Jonathan Viera penalty before Arda, known in Spain as the Turkish magician, made it 2-0 on the half hour after more good work from Costa.

The Brazil-born forward fed Jose Sosa and despite having a clear shooting opportunity he unselfishly squared for Arda to finish into an empty net.

Rayo, who play some attractive football but have a disastrously leaky defence, pulled a goal back in the 40th minute when Viera finished off a sweeping move and Arda scored his second moments before the break.

The stocky and heavily-bearded midfielder nipped in at the back post and volleyed a deflected Gabi free kick in from a tight angle.

Costa, the second-highest scorer in La Liga this season behind Cristiano Ronaldo, appeared to have netted his 20th of the campaign in the 75th minute but it was ruled an own goal and attributed to Rayo midfielder Saul Niguez.

Joaquin Larrivay nodded a second for Rayo a minute later and Atletico had to withstand late pressure but Courtois capped another fine performance with a couple of impressive saves.

571

Source:
Reuters
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