Pedro fills in for Messi

Spaniard gets both goals as Barcelona beat Levante 2-1 while Valencia leave it late to beat fifth-placed Espanyol.

    Barcelona's strength in depth was on show as they beat Levante without three key players [AFP]

    Pedro Rodriguez scored both goals as Barcelona beat promoted Levante 2-1 to move five points clear at the top of the Spanish Primera Division ahead of Real Madrid's match at Getafe the next day.

    Barca were without the injured Carles Puyol, the suspended Gerard Pique and the rested Lionel Messi, and looked rusty after the league's two-week winter break.

    The hosts struggled to open up Levante's massed defence until the 47th minute on Sunday when Pedro kept his composure in a crowded area to score.

    Results & fixtures

    Sunday January 2

     Athl Bilbao 1-2 Deportivo
     Barcelona 2-1 Levante
     Sp Gijon 1-2 Malaga
     Sevilla 1-0 Osasuna
     Valencia 2-1 Espanyol

    Monday January 3

    Atl Madrid v Santander
     Mallorca v Hercules
     Zaragoza v Sociedad
     Villarreal v Almeria
     Getafe v Real Madrid

    The second came 12 minutes later, Dani Alves breaking down the right and crossing for Spanish international Pedro to sweep in his eighth league goal of the campaign.

    The crossbar denied Pedro his hat-trick and Cristian Stuani pulled one back for Levante with a superb volley 10 minutes from time.

    Spain midfielder Xavi made his 549th appearance for Barcelona, equalling the club record set by Migueli.

    Barca have 46 points from 17 matches and pulled away from second-placed Real, who play on Monday.

    "We knew Levante would make it tough and that they would be looking for a reaction after losing 8-0 at the Bernabeu (in their last outing)," coach Pep Guardiola said after Barca took their unbeaten sequence to 24 matches in all competitions.

    "We didn't play badly but we found it hard to break them open. In 50 years' time teams will still be playing with 10 men behind the ball and it will continue to be hard to beat them."

    Valencia consolidated their grip on fourth place with 31 points, a last-minute header from Juan Mata earning a 2-1 home win with 10 men over fifth-placed Espanyol.

    Sevilla ended a run of five consecutive league defeats to edge out Osasuna 1-0, a header from Frederic Kanoute in the 36th minute proving enough as the home team climbed to ninth with 23 points.

    Valencia had the better of the opening exchanges at the Mestalla and Aritz Aduriz powered them in front with an angled header from a corner in the 29th minute.

    The visitors patiently worked their way back into the game but were lucky to level just before half time when Valencia defender Ricardo Costa dived and headed Jose Callejon's cross into his own net.


    A foolish off-the-ball elbow from Aduriz left his side with 10 men on the hour mark, and as they pushed forward Espanyol's Callejon almost put them ahead, Vicente Guaita pulling off a fine one-handed save.

    Valencia's Pablo Hernandez somehow scooped over the bar from close range, but in time added on Spain winger Mata raced into head home from a well-worked move, though television replays showed he was in an off-side position.

    "It was a very even game but we had the luck to score in the last move," Mata told Spanish television.

    "They are three very important points for us to secure us in the Champions League places."

    In other games, Deportivo Coruna were 2-1 winners at Athletic Bilbao and Malaga dragged themselves out of the bottom three with a 2-1 victory at Sporting Gijon.

    Adrian Lopez scored twice for Depor as both teams had a man sent off.

    The striker hit the first from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute and scored the second with a long-range strike in the 52nd.

    After missing various chances earlier, Fernando Llorente pulled one back for Bilbao with a header in the 86th for his 11th goal of the season.

    Bilbao defender Mikel San Jose was sent off in the 34th minute, with Deportivo midfielder Juan Rodriguez being dismissed in the 47th.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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