Barcelona smashes Malaga and records in Spain

Barcelona (Spain), Jan 17 (AP) Barcelona extended itsunbeaten run to a club-record 28 games on Sunday, strolling toa 4-1 win over Malaga to open up a four-point lead in theSpanish league after second-place Real Madrid drew 1-1 atlast-place Almeria.

Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez scored inthe first half and Villa added another after the break to setthe record in the 111-year history of Barcelona, which hadpreviously gone 27 games unbeaten in the 1973-74 season.

Barcelona has 52 points, a league record for halfwaythrough a season, breaking the mark it set two seasons ago bytwo points.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola downplayed his team''s leadover Madrid.

"They (Madrid) will drop very few points in the secondround," he said. "We have to take each game as a stepforward."

Earlier at Juegos Mediterraneos stadium, Almeria''s JoseUlloa fired a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Iker Casillasfor the 60th-minute opener.

Esteban Granero equalized for Madrid with a rising strikeoff a pass from fellow second-half substitute Karim Benzema inthe 77th.

"The league is very open. Under normal conditions, afour-point difference is an open league," Madrid coach JoseMourinho said.

The problem is that Barcelona is not playing like anormal team.

The Catalan club is demolishing league opponents,outscoring them 51-6 in its 13-match winning streak.

To add to Madrid''s pain, its fierce rivals'' 17th win atthe season''s midway point has broken Madrid''s record from1960-61.

Barcelona is also two wins away from equaling Madrid''sleague record of 15 straight wins that has stood since thesame season.

Malaga''s starting 11 featured five of its wintersignings, including forward Baptista on debut. But Barcelonashowed why it is the favorite to lift a third straight leaguetitle.

Iniesta opened the scoring in the eighth minute,half-volleying the ball in off the post from a pass by DaniAlves with goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo looking on.

Alves was forced off after 24 minutes of the match andwill be sidelined for between 10 and 15 days with a calfinjury, Barcelona said in a statement.

Villa doubled the advantage in the 18th. Xavi Hernandez''scurling shot hit the crossbar, and Villa converted aftermidfielder Sergio Busquets had stolen possession. (AP) AT

Pedro Rodriguez hit his sixth goal in four games and 10th this season, getting the rebound from Iniesta''s shot in the36th that Asenjo did well to save but could not hold.

Asenjo twice denied Lionel Messi from close range, beforeSergio "Duda" Barbosa pulled one back for Malaga in the 68thwith a left-footed free kick that bent over the wall and intothe top corner.

Villa capped the historic win when Xavi put him throughin the 74th minute to score his 14th goal of the season.

"We knew we could increase our lead after (Madrid) drew,"Villa said. "But there is a long way to go."

In Madrid''s match, the visitors failed to find its rhythmin attack and were limited to long-range attempts fromCristiano Ronaldo.

"Nobody thought we could do it," said Ulloa. "Wecontrolled the game and they did not create many chances."

Kaka, who started a match for Madrid for the first timesince surgery on his left knee in August, linked up withRonaldo for Madrid''s best chance in the first half. The Brazilstar played Ronaldo through with a lob into the center of theAlmeria defense, but goalkeeper Diego Alves reacted quickly.

Benzema replaced Kaka in the 59th, and Madrid pushed fora winner to continue its run of five straight league wins, butAlmeria earned a point after Ronaldo hit the crossbar with afree kick in extra time.

"There is a long way to go and we are convinced there istime to catch Barcelona," said Granero.

Also, Jeremy Mathieu and Pablo Hernandez scored lategoals to give Valencia a 2-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna onSunday to strengthen its hold on fourth place in the Spanishleague.

Mathieu raced down the left flank to reach a pass fromTino Costa and shoot past goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia from adifficult angle in the 77th. Hernandez then caught theDeportivo defense pressing forward for the equalizer to scorethe second goal just before the final whistle, as Valenciaextended its winning streak to four games.

Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita saved a low shot byforward Lassad Nouioui at the 50-minute mark in Deportivo''sbest scoring chance.

"We have to improve our attack from the wings, but avictory lets you see things in a more positive light and youcan polish your mistakes," Valencia coach Unai Emery said.

Valencia has scored late winners in its past three winsto move three points clear of fifth-place Espanyol.

Deportivo remained 13th, five points above the relegationzone. (AP) AT

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