Spanish Liga - Barcelona beat Valladolid as Messi extends tally

La Liga, Estadio Municipal Jose Zorrilla – Real Valladolid 1 (Guerra 88) Barcelona 3 (Xavi 43, Messi 59, Tello 90+3)

Lionel Messi finished his record-breaking 2012 goals tally with his 91st of the year in a 3-1 Liga victory at Real Valladolid.

Xavi’s close-range finish put Barca in charge before the break, with Messi adding a second just before the hour mark, both players involved in the other’s goals.

Watched on by caretaker coach Jordi Roura - standing in while Tito Vilanova undergoes treatment for a tumour - Barca continued to dominate possession as they created multiple chances, but they failed to add to their tally.

Indeed, Valladolid pulled back a late consolation as substitute Javi Guerra put home from close range, but a late rally came to nothing as Barca closed out victory, adding a third at the death as Cristian Tello raced through from halfway only seconds after coming on.

The result keeps Barca nine points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid, while Valladolid lie 11th in the standings.

Barcelona, who rested Andres Iniesta and were without the injured Cesc Fabregas, were short of their usual rampant selves in the early stages as Valladolid managed more than the usual 30 per cent possession Barca’s opponents are limited to.

Still, they did not really test Victor Valdes as the visitors created most of the opportunities.

Messi almost connected with an Alexis Sanchez cross as he sought to add to his 90 goals this calendar year.

Alexis, preferred to David Villa, tried but failed to meet a Daniel Alves cross with a diving header, while the Brazil wing-back found Messi with a higher ball, the Argentine heading straight at Dani Hernandez.

As the half progressed Barca grew more dominant, hitting their usual 70 per cent possession mark, and Messi nearly opened the scoring with a wonderful free-kick that rattled the woodwork, Dani a spectator to its pace and dip.

Finally they took the lead, and it was some goal as a fine passing move saw Messi release Jordi Alba with a defence splitting through ball down the left, the Spain wing-back drilling a wicked low cross that Xavi rammed into the roof of the net.

There was no let up in the second half, Pedro hitting the post with a deft header from an Alves cross, with Messi missing a sitter when he dragged wide after fine play from Alexis.

That howler lingered in the memory for about 30 seconds as, almost immediately, Messi drilled home his final goal of 2012, in off the post after a mazy run that begun after a delightful Xavi backheel.

There was an attempted comeback from Valladolid as the full-backs started overlapping with more frequency, a fantastic cross by Mikel Balenziaga dropping just short of Manucho, but Barca responded with a move that should have yielded a goal when Alves was sent through on the right – his cross was nicked clear of Messi.

Both teams were trading rapid counter attacks in the final quarter-hour, with one particularly bizarre incident highlighting Barca’s occasional tendency to overplay things: after a string of passes in and around the Valladolid box, Alves was sent clean through but inexplicably backheeled the ball to Pedro.

Valladolid almost made them pay when, with the clock winding down, Guerra forced a fine save from Valdes with a bullet header before reacting quickest to drill home the rebound.

Barca resorted to time-wasting as Valladolid piled men forward, so it was ironic that one such delaying tactic – the 92nd-minute introduction of Tello – should yield a third goal, the youngster picking the ball up on halfway before running past the back-tracking defenders to plant a cool finish past Dani.

The whistle went soon afterwards as Barca continued the best-ever start to a Liga campaign by sealing a 16th win in 17 matches.

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