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Messi helps Barcelona to 4-1 win against Santander

LEO Messi scored twice as Barcelona thrashed Racing Santander 4-1 for its fourth win in as many games in the Spanish league yesterday.

Barcelona improved to three points clear in the standings, with Real Madrid due to play today. Barcelona has the maxiumum 12 points, with Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla all three behind.

Sevilla handed Mallorca its first defeat by 2-0 with first-half scores from Sebastien Squillaci and Diego Perotti.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed Messi's cross from close range and the shot bounced in off defender Henrique for Barcelona's opener in the 20th minute.

In the 24th, Xavi Hernandez and Messi exchanged passes on the edge of Santander's area before the Argentina winger scored with a left-footed shot.

Three minutes later, defender Gerard Pique controled Ibrahimovic's backheel from inside the area and shot past goalkeeper Antonio Rodriguez.

Barcelona kept possession for long spells throughout and in the first half Santander failed to conjure a single serious chance.

"Mentally it's better when you have the ball, you enjoy it more and a high level of possession is what we look for in every game," Xavi said.

In the 45th, Ibrahimovic received a yellow card for a loose challenge on Nasief Morris and Messi appeared to score his second of the night at El Sardinero Stadium on the stroke of halftime, but he was ruled offside.

Ibrahimovic, who has scored in all four league games, needed treatment after injuring his ankle in the 46th. He returned to the field but was replaced in the 53rd by Pedro Rodriguez.

Barcelona appeared to relax in the second half, but Messi raised the temperature in the 68th, drifting past the Santander defense on the edge of the area and sending a left-foot shot into the top left corner of the goal. His fifth goal of the season made him the league top scorer.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola took off the Argentine a minute later and sent in Andres Iniesta, who recently returned from injury.

Santander finally got on the scoreboard in the 71st, when winger Oscar Serrano dribbled through the Barcelona defense and fired a left-footed shot into the top-left corner.

In the 87th, Santander's Laszlo Sepsi appeared to pull down Rodriguez in the area but referee Mateu Lahoz waved play on.

At Sevilla's Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, defender Sebastien Squillaci headed in from an assist by fellow Frenchman Julien Escude in the 16th minute.

In the 25th, Jesus Navas combined with Luis Fabiano and passed for midfielder Perotti to head home in Sevilla's third win in four games.

Forward Alvaro Negredo, who moved to Sevilla from Real Madrid in the summer, had several chances in the first half but failed to get on the scoreboard.

In the second half, Mallorca replaced injured goalkeeper Dudu Aouate with German Lux.

In the 55th, Mallorca midfielder Borja Valero went on for Fernando, who had narrowly escaped a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Perotti moments earlier.

In the 63rd, goalscorer Perotti received an ovation from the crowd as he was replaced by fellow Argentine Diego Capel. Fernando Navarro then went on for the lively Navas on the right of midfield.

Villarreal's Argentina midfielder Ariel Ibagaza suffered muscle damage to his right leg during Sunday's match against Athletic Bilbao and will be sidelined for up to six weeks, the club said on Tuesday in a statement on its Web site.

On Wednesday it's Espanyol vs. Malaga, Villarreal vs. Real Madrid, Xerez vs. Deportivo La Coruna, Tenerife vs. Athletic Bilbao, Valladolid vs. Osasuna, Atletico Madrid vs. Almeria and Getafe vs. Valencia. On Thursday it's Sporting Gijon vs. Zaragoza.


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