Barca keep up the pressure

Messi brace inspires Barca at Racing Santander but Catalan giants are still ten points behind Spanish leaders Real.

    A routine win for head coach Pep Guardiola, but will he still be in charge of Barca next season? [GETTY]

    Four days after scoring a European Champions League-record five times, Lionel Messi's 49th and 50th goals of the season led Barcelona to a 2-0 win at Racing Santander in Spain's Primera Division.

    Messi scored five in Barcelona's 7-1 win against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday, and his double on Sunday enabled him to reach the 50-goal mark for the second straight season and close to within five of matching Cesar Rodriguez's all-time club record of 235.

    The Argentina forward has scored 16 goals in his past six matches for club and country. Messi had 53 goals in 55 matches for his club last season. He already has 50 in 43 matches so far this campaign.

    Barcelona' fourth straight victory kept them 10 points behind runaway leaders Real Madrid, but with 12 rounds to play the defending champions' chances of catching their fierce rival are dwindling.

    Easy victory

    Messi broke through Racing's 10-man defence in the 29th minute, and the three-time FIFA World Player of the Year added a penalty in the 56th as Barcelona enjoyed a rare easy win away from Camp Nou.

    Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, however, insisted that his team had been put to the test.

    "We had to make a big effort,'' Guardiola said.

    "We played well on a pitch that didn't favour passing the ball. They packed in their defence, and that is never easy.''

    Results & fixtures

    Saturday March 10

    Real Sociedad 3-0 Zaragoza
    Malaga 1-0 Levante
    Sporting Gijon 1-0 Sevilla
    Real Betis 2-3 Real Madrid

    Sunday March 11

    Atletico Madrid 2-0 Granada
    Espanyol 5-1 Rayo Vallecano
    Valencia 2-2 Mallorca
    Santander 0-2 Barcelona
    Osasuna v Athletic Bilbao

    Monday March 12

    Villarreal v Getafe

    Racing coach Alvaro Cervera, who was hired on Friday, could do little but watch as Barcelona kept the relegation-threatened side winless for an eighth straight week.

    Cervera made Racing's strategy clear from the start. While some teams have had limited success pressing Barcelona, the former Racing and Spain player opted for his side to sit back and try to resist their opponent's precision passing game.

    But the hosts' defensive stance led to zero shots on goal and failed to stop Messi from taking his league goal tally to 30 - two behind Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the list.

    "Entering the game 13 points behind (Madrid), we couldn't afford a slip,'' Guardiola said.

    "We imagined they could play one way or the other, but we had to come out looking for the win from the first minute.''

    In control

    Barcelona hardly missed the injured David Villa and Alexis Sanchez, with the trio of Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta proving to be too much for Racing.

    Barcelona dominated possession from the start but needed to get the hang of the uneven turf at El Sardinero stadium before Andres Iniesta hit the crossbar with a delicate chip shot in the 23rd.

    The European champions eventually besieged Racing in their own area for Messi to score. He combined with Fabregas, laying off to the midfielder and pushing forward to dive and knock his cross into the net for the sixth goal set up by Fabregas in the league this season.

    Racing sent on striker Christian Stuani at half-time but to no effect.

    Messi made it 2-0 in the 56th from the penalty spot, coolly stroking the ball into the bottom right corner after Fabregas had been fouled in the area by Racing defender Domingo Cisma. 



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