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Barcelona thrashes Zaragoza to go clear at top

BARCELONA thrashed Zaragoza 6-1 to move three points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the Spanish league yesterday, helped by a Seydou Keita hat trick and two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Catalans shrugged off their surprise loss to Rubin Kazan in the Champions League midweek and produced a dominant display. Three early goals put the European Champion out of reach by halftime.

Barcelona is now on 22 points, three ahead of Real Madrid, which failed to bounce back from its midweek loss to AC Milan in drawing with Sporting Gijon 0-0 on Saturday. Sevilla is third on 16 points.

"We have proved that Barcelona is a big team," said Keita after the game. "I'm happy but I am not a goal scorer. If (Leo) Messi or Ibrahimovic scores, it's better for the team."

Ibrahimovic and Messi, who led the attack with Andres Iniesta, were a constant threat for Barcelona.

With five minutes played, Xavi Hernandez found Messi in space but the Argentina winger shot just wide. A long pass from Xavi in the 12th found Ibrahimovic, who headed down for Messi - but his low shot was pushed round the post by keeper Juan Pablo Carrizo.

Barcelona finally took the lead in the 24th minute when Messi took a short pass from a corner and his cross connected with the head of the diving Keita to make it 1-0.

Five minutes later Carrizo got both hands to a rocketing shot from Ibrahimovic but couldn't keep it out.

Ibrahimovic was twice ruled offside after finding the net from a Messi assist. In the 41st Ibrahimovic was the provider when he cut in from the left and Keita swept his cross into the net.

The Swede combined with Keita moments later, flicking the Malian's cross with the outside of his boot into the net for his second of the night.

A rare lapse by Barcelona allowed Jorge Lopez to burst through in the 78th and beat goalkeeper Victor Valdes with a stinging shot.

Messi struck back two minutes later, gathering a pass from Iniesta on the edge of the area and lobbing Carrizo to make it 5-1 and Keita scored his third when he headed in from a corner.

Goals from David Villa, Pablo Hernandez and Juan Manuel Mata gave Valencia a 3-0 win over 10-man Almeria on Sunday, taking the side up to fourth place in the standings.

Spain striker Villa returned to the starting line-up after spending most of the midweek Europa League game against Slavia Prague on the bench. He scored his seventh of the season when he rose to head in Hernandez's delicate cross in the 53rd minute.

Just after the hour, Almeria was reduced to 10 men when goalkeeper Diego Alves was sent off for a rash challenge on Hernandez.

In the 74th minute, Hernandez saw substitute 'keeper Andres Esteban off his line and his long-range lob found the net.

Juan Manuel Mata made it 3-0 with a low drive in the 86th minute.

Valencia is level with Deportivo La Coruna on 15 points.

Earlier, Villarreal beat Malaga 2-1 to win its first game of the season and move off the bottom of the table.

Villarreal looked unsettled after seven league games without a win, but Nilmar da Silva calmed nerves with a goal in the 27th minute.

Malaga's Albert Luque equalized just before halftime, but Joan Capdevila's low free kick put the hosts ahead again in the 52nd.

"We've suffered a lot, but when you are way down there in the standings that's how it is," said Villarreal coach Ernesto Valverde after the game. "The win is very good, even though we had to suffer. We won without playing the way we wanted."

The result left Malaga bottom in the standings.

Also yesterday, Valladolid beat Deportivo La Coruna 4-0, Getafe defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-0, Osasuna drew 1-1 with Racing Santander and Tenerife edged Xerez 1-0.

On Saturday, nine-man Mallorca held Atletico Madrid to 1-1 and Sevilla drew 0-0 against Espanyol.


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