|They are having fun now but Barca face a real challenge in their next round [GALLO/GETTY]|
Spanish league leaders Real Madrid extended their winning streak to 14 games in all competitions by beating Sporting Gijon 3-0 on Saturday.
Barcelona also looked untouchable as they dispatched Levante 5-0, with Cesc Fabregas twice scoring for his side.
Angel Di Maria’s goal for Real Madrid in the 34th minute stood out in an otherwise dull first half that saw more bookings than scoring chances.
Di Maria then produced the through ball for Cristiano Ronaldo to put the game at El Molinon beyond doubt in the 64th with his league-leading 17th goal before Marcelo capped the win in stoppage time.
“It was a tough game and the important thing is that we won”
Real’s Angel Di Maria
“It was a tough game and the important thing is that we won,” Di Maria said.
“We scored early and then knew how to manage the rest of the game.”
Madrid host Barcelona next Saturday in the first highly anticipated “clasico” of the season.
Barcelona may trail their bitter rivals Real by three points but they are in the sort of form that will concern Jose Mourinho, especially if he watched their emphatic victory over Levante.
Elsewhere, Christian Stuani’s first-half goal gave Racing Santander a 1-0 win over Villarreal in their first game under interim coach Juanjo Gonzalez since Hector Cuper parted ways with the northern Spanish club.
Racing’s second win of the season provisionally lifted them out of last place.
Valencia cemented their hold on third place in the league, meanwhile, with a 2-1 win over Espanyol at home. Captain Roberto Soldado came off the bench to nod in the winner in the 80th minute, after Hector Moreno had brought Espanyol back into the game with a 69th minute equaliser.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola returned to a three-man defensive line, thereby allowing Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Fabregas to overwhelm Levante in the midfield.
Levante were missing their two most dynamic players – midfielder Jose Barkero and forward Juanlu Gomez – and didn’t look like the revelation that had risen to the top of the table this season.
Barcelona’s passing attack worked wonders from the start as the hosts had little trouble remaining unbeaten this season at Camp Nou, where it has outscored their league opponents 39-0.
Fabregas put Barcelona on their way four minutes in when he collected a pass from Lionel Messi that Andres Iniesta sent through with a fine touch before shooting just inside the left post.
The former Arsenal captain headed Xavi’s free kick into the right side of the goal to make it 2-0 in the 33rd.
Barcelona continued to roll and B-team standout Isaac Cuenca put the contest away in the 37th, firing low into the right corner after Iniesta again smartly redirected a pass from Messi to set up the unmarked winger.
Messi drove in a left-footed shot off a pass from Dani Alves 10 minutes after halftime to draw even with Ronaldo as the league’s top scorers with 17 goals each, and Alexis Sanchez capped a break started deep in Barcelona’s territory in the 61st for the Chile forward’s third goal in two games.
With Xabi Alonso suspended, Lassana Diarra started in Madrid’s midfield alongside the equally defensive-minded Sami Khedira.
The visitors missed Alonso’s incisive passes early as they dominated possession but failed to seriously threaten Sporting’s area until Di Maria drew a save from Juan Colinas with a long blast in the 19th.
The game quickly became bogged down by a series of hasty bookings by referee Eduardo Iturralde as tempers began to fray.
Iturralde sent off Madrid assistant Rui Faria for complaining on the bench and went on to show six yellow cards – five for Sporting – before halftime.
With their attack stalled outside the area, Madrid went ahead through a great individual effort by Di Maria when he recovered the ball, danced down the left flank and caught Colinas anticipating the cross with a deft stab to send the ball into the right side of the net.
|Real Madrid’s Angel di Maria watches the ball as he scores his team’s first goal [GALLO/GETTY]|
“We scored when we had done very little to deserve it,” Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said.
“We hadn’t done much before the 1-0, but during halftime we talked about it and in the second half we saw the difference.”
Gonzalo Higuain came close to doubling Madrid’s lead in the 53rd when Colinas blocked his low strike off a free kick, while Sporting defender Alberto Botia should have done better in the 57th when he sent his header well wide after Madrid was caught trying to pull an offside trap.
Di Maria cued the decider when he played Ronaldo through the defence to round Colinas with an extra touch and slot home from the right side.
Sporting played with 10 men from the 80th after Sebastian Eguren received his second booking, and Marcelo ran through the hosts’ thin defense to score from close range in the dying moments.
On Sunday, it’s: Atletico Madrid vs. Rayo Vallecano, Real Sociedad vs. Malaga, Osasuna vs. Real Betis, Mallorca vs. Athletic Bilbao, and Granada vs. Zaragoza.
Sevilla host Getafe on Monday to close round 14.