View Count: 335 |  Publish Date: April 07, 2014
Atletico Madrid tops Spain's La Liga, Messi brings Barcelona to second
Joseph WIlson, The Associated PressPosted: Monday, April 7, 2014, 8:38 AM
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Atletico Madrid sweated out a 1-0 victory over Villarreal without leading scorer Diego Costa to stay top of the Spanish league on Saturday, while Lionel Messi scored two goals in Barcelonas 3-1 win over Real Betis to stay one point behind.
Gareth Bales long-range goal helped make sure Real Madrid didnt miss star Cristiano Ronaldo as it cruised to a 4-0 victory at Real Sociedad, staying within three points of the pacesetters in third place.
Messi converted a 14th-minute penalty and followed up a second spot kick that was blocked by goalkeeper Adan Garrido to seal the victory in the 86th.
Messi recorded his 24th and 25th league goals of the season - pulling him level with Diego Costa as the leagues second-leading scorers behind Ronaldos 28 - but Barcelona again showed problems in defense that last-placed Betis failed to fully exploit. More coverage2014 Union season statistics 2014 Philadelphia Union schedule Major League Soccer national television schedule Fox Sports UEFA and CONCACAF Champions League TV schedule More soccer coverage from The Goalkeeper Buy Philadelphia Union gear Buy Philadelphia Union tickets
Earlier, Atleticos Raul Garcia scored in the 14th and Diego Simeones side held out to deny Villarreal in the second half as it stayed undefeated at its Vicente Calderon stadium through 17 league games this season.
We didnt have the strength and energy that we have had on other days, said Simeone. But my team played smart, and when you play smart you make up for the lack of energy to pull out the win.
Atletico hopes Diego Costa will recover from a right thigh injury for Wednesdays Champions League quarterfinal with Barcelona after they drew 1-1 in the first leg.
Atletico then has six games left as it tries to claim its first league title since 1996.
While David Villa was ineffective before being substituted with half an hour to play, Garcia again proved his value to Atletico as a versatile attacking midfielder by pushing aside his marker to head in Jorge Koke Resurreccions corner kick.
Also, Rayo Vallecano won 3-0 at home over Celta Vigo to get its fifth win in seven rounds and move six points from the relegation zone.
Barcelona unfurled a banner in the Camp Nou stands before the match that read Hands Off La Masia, referring to FIFAs one-year transfer ban after footballs governing body found the Catalan club guilty of breaching regulations in signing youth players for its renowned training academy. Barcelona club president Josep Bartomeu also said that he had a friendly and cordial conversation with FIFA president Joseph Blatter about the ban.
We are going through some tough times, but we have managed to isolate ourselves and concentrate on the matches, Barcelona forward Pedro Rodriguez said.
Messi put Barcelona in charge after Alexis Sanchez was fouled by defender Jordi Figueras in the area.
Barcelona started to show the same drop in energy that had affected Atletico after Xavi Hernandezs free kick grazed the crossbar.
But just when Betis was playing its best, Figueras gifted Barcelona a goal by knocking Adrianos pass into his own net in the 67th.
A minute later substitute Ruben Castro scored for Betis with Barcelona disorganized at the back, using a feint to make two defenders slide to the turf before he poked the ball beyond goalkeeper Jose Pinto.
Messi finally calmed the nervous crowd after Antonio Amaya handled Neymars cross in the box. Adan saved Messis first try and even recovered to get a glove on his follow-up effort, only to see the ball trickle over the goalline.
With Ronaldo nursing his hurt left knee, Madrids visit to Sociedad was billed as its toughest outing left in the league. Instead it proved to be a pleasant trip to San Sebastian, as Madrid put together a no-nonsense performance highlighted by Bales outstanding strike.
Sociedads early push sputtered out when its former player Asier Illarramendi tilted the game in Madrids favor just before halftime by scoring a rebound from Karim Benzemas shot that goalie Claudio Bravo pushed down in front of his net.
After Sergio Ramos and Benzema had both hit the woodwork, Bale pounced on Bravos scuffed goal kick that fell to him 30-meters outside the area before quickly unleashing a blistering left-footed strike to seal the result in the 66th.
Pepe swept in Madrids third in the 85th before substitute Alvaro Morata scored with two minutes to play. Previous Story:Giving Em Fitz: Fans staying home to watch sportsNext Story: Everton rout Arsenal, Liverpool back atop Premier League Joseph WIlsonThe Associated Press #post2 .pw-icon.ra1-pw-icon-reddit {background: url() 0px 0px no-repeat !important;width: 60px !important;height: 20px !important;margin-right:8px;}#post2 .pw-icon.ra1-pw-icon-email {background: url() 0px 0px no-repeat !important;width: 71px !important;height: 28px !important;}

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