European football round-up: Vilanova sounds cautious note as Barcelona set new half term record

Barcelona maintaned their 11 point lead over Atletico Madrid with a comfortable win over Malaga to set a new points record at the half-way point in the Primera Liga.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi avoids Malaga's Weligton de Oliveira to have a shot at goal.
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Barcelona maintained their 11-point lead atop the Primera Division after Lionel Messi celebrated winning the Ballon d'Or by inspiring his side to a 3-1 victory at Malaga.

Messi collected the Fifa honour for an unparalleled fourth time earlier this week and opened the scoring tonight in the 27th minute by cutting out Nacho Camacho's sloppy back-pass before twisting past Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero and slotting home.

The Argentinian's delightful chip allowed Cesc Fabregas to run through on goal and pass across Caballero in the 50th minute and he then exchanged a one-two with substitute Thiago, who scored Barca's third with a 20-yard strike late on, before Diego Buonanotte pulled one back in the final minute with a lovely curling free kick.

It was ultimately a comfortable evening for the Primera Division leaders, who set a new record for the best ever start to a Primera Liga season.

Their 55 point from 19 games breaks the previous total they set for the halfway stage two years ago, when they stood at 52 points - though Tito Vilanova, the Barcelona coach, warned setting more records in the league will be tough this season.

"We're very happy to get 55 out of 57 points, but logically it will be difficult to repeat that with the Champions League and the Spanish Cup to think about as well," he cautioned.

"We have Atletico 11 points behind us and we have to go there and to Real Madrid so we can't just stop now, we have to keep going."

Barcelona's closest challengers Atletico Madrid maintained the gap with a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Real Zaragoza at the Vicente Calderón.

After a dominant opening spell, Tiago eventually headed Atleti in front on the half-hour mark as he rose highest to nod home Gabi's corner.

Radamel Falcao then added the second from the penalty spot seven minutes before the break after Arda Turan was brought down by Cristian Sapunaru.

Despite failing to build on their advantage, the hosts comfortably saw out the second period without any major scares to go seven points clear of third-placed Real Madrid.

Real Betis boosted their European hopes as goals from Joel Campbell and Ruben Castro handed them a comfortable 2-0 win over Levante.

Campbell opened the scoring after just seven minutes as he swept home Castro's pass at the end of a flowing counter-attack for just his second Betis goal.

Roger had two decent chances to draw Levante level minutes before and after the break, but he failed to make a proper connection with either attempt and Castro gave the hosts the cushion they needed with a brilliant turn and finish 27 minutes from time.

Relegation-battling Deportivo La Coruna held on for the final 26 minutes with a man less to earn a 1-1 draw from their trip to Real Sociedad.

Depor took a 27th-minute through Luis Pizzi but then found themselves on the back foot after conceding an equaliser to Carlos Vela on the stroke of half-time and then losing defender Evaldo to a red card just after the hour-mark.

However, Sociedad could not make the most of their numerical advantage in the closing stages as Depor made it four points from two games under new coach Domingos Paciencia.


Marseille made a horror start to 2013 as their Ligue 1 title bid suffered a shock blow with a 3-1 defeat at 10-man Sochaux.

OM returned from the winter break level at the top with Paris St Germain and Lyon but are adrift of both after a forgettable night in the snow in Montbéliard.

First-half goals from Sloan Privat and Cedric Bakambu stunned the visitors before a Jeremy Morel own goal shortly after half-time handed Sochaux full control.

Their grip loosened when Jordan Ayew quickly replied and then Joseph Lopy saw red on the hour.

But Marseille failed to make any further inroads with Lucas Mendes' header against the post with the final touch the closest they came.

The blistering form Nice showed before the Christmas break continued as Claude Puel's side thrashed Valenciennes 5-0.

Les Aiglons had to wait until the final minute of the first half to take the lead, Dario Cvitanich doing the trick, but the goals flowed after the break, with Cvitanich getting his second while Renato Civelli, Valentin Eysseric and Didier Digard also chipped in.

Reims remained in relegation trouble as they went down 2-1 at home to Bastia.

The visitors grabbed a two-goal lead thanks to Ilan's opener and Florian Thauvin's effort just after half-time.

Gaetan Courtet gave Reims hope shortly after the hour mark, but their failure to find a leveller leaves them outside the drop zone on goal difference only.


Lazio and Napoli made up valuable ground in the race for the Serie A title as Juventus saw their lead cut to just three points at Parma.

Andrea Pirlo threatened to hand Parma a first home defeat since March with his fortuitous free kick just after the break, but Nicola Sansone danced behind the Juve backline to level the match and rescue a deserved point from a 1-1 draw.

Meanwhile, Lazio continued their steady pursuit of Antonio Conte's men by claiming a hard-earned 2-0 victory over 10-man Atalanta.

A controversial finish from Sergio Floccari and Davide Brivio's own-goal saw Lazio seal victory, with Carlos Carmona picking up two yellow cards and his marching orders late on.

Lazio can draw level with Juve next weekend if they claim all three points at Palermo, should Juventus lose at home to Udinese.

Edinson Cavani may not have scored his 100th Serie A goal but Napoli remain in the hunt for the Scudetto courtesy of a 3-0 win over struggling Palermo.

The Uruguayan could have brought up a century of goals in the Italian top flight against his former club but Christian Maggio opened the scoring instead.

Goals from Gokhan Inler and Lorenzo Insigne then ensured a third straight defeat for 19th-placed Palermo as Napoli closed to within five points of Juve.

Udinese kept their outside chances of playing in Europe again next season alive thanks to an impressive 3-1 win over Fiorentina.

An unfortunate own goal from Zeljko Brkic gave Fiorentina the lead but Antonio Di Natale levelled matters from the penalty spot. Di Natale then gave Udinese the lead before Muriel grabbed a third to finish La Viola off.

Roma's European ambitions suffered another blow after they crashed to a third defeat in four matches by going down 1-0 to mid-table Catania.

Alejandro Gomez's goal was the difference as Catania followed in the footsteps of Chievo and Napoli by sending sixth-placed Roma to defeat on the road.

AC Milan later missed the chance to leapfrog Roma after neither side managed to make the breakthrough in a hectic goalless draw at Sampdoria.

Lorenzo De Silvestri, Andrea Poli and Mauro Icardi whipped the Marassi faithful into a frenzy with a host of exciting plays, with Bojan Krkic and Kevin-Prince Boateng coming close for the visitors, but ultimately the points were shared.

Torino survived a late scare to take all three points in a dramatic 3-2 victory over Siena.

The Granata led 3-1 at half-time thanks to goals from Matteo Brighi, Rolando Bianchi and Alessio Cerci, with Reginaldo replying for Siena.

But Michele Paolucci pulled a goal back for the Bianconeri only for ex-Torino midfielder Alessandro Rosina to miss a penalty in the 89th minute.

Elsewhere, Daniele Conti's late header completed a Cagliari comeback that lifted them out of the relegation zone with a 2-1 win over 10-man Genoa.

Marco Sau had cancelled out Eros Pisano's headed opener, with Genoa midfielder Felipe Seymour picking up a red card after Conti grabbed the winner.


Leaders Benfica remained three points ahead of closest rivals Porto after they shared a 2-2 draw at the Estadio da Luz.

All four goals were scored in a frenetic opening 20 minutes, highlighted by a wonder-strike from Benfica midfielder Nemanja Matic.

Eliaquim Mangala sent Porto ahead on eight minutes but just moments later Matic unleashed a vicious angled volley from the edge of the area.

Porto retook the lead through Jackson Martinez on 15 minutes but a hectic start continued as Nicolas Gaitan equalised again two minutes later.

That was the end of the scoring, however, as both sides maintained their unbeaten start. Porto have a game in hand to close the three-point gap.

Vitoria Setúbal climbed out of the relegation zone with an emphatic 5-0 win over nine-man Moreirense.

Albert Ze Meyong's completed a hat-trick on 48 minutes to put the hosts out of sight. Moreirense had already had Borges Wagner sent off on 38 minutes and when Augusto followed five minutes after half-time the game was up for the last-placed visitors.

Pedro Santos (55) and Bruninho (85) put the seal on an emphatic win.

Pacos Ferreira and Rio Ave consolidated their positions in the Europa League places with 1-0 wins over Academica and Gil Vicente respectively.

Christopher Hurtado netted a 52nd-minute winner for Pacos who had Ricardo sent off late on.

Ferreira Marcelo grabbed the away winner on 35 minutes for Rio Ave.

Goals from Zakaria Labyad and Adrien Silva in each half fired Sporting Lisbon to a 2-0 success at Olhanense.


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