Barcelona remains unbeaten

Spanish leader Barcelona beat Valladolid 3-0 on Saturday to finish the first half of the league season unbeaten, opening an eight-point advantage over Real Madrid.

Spanish leader Barcelona beat Valladolid 3-0 on Saturday to finish the first half of the league season unbeaten, opening an eight-point advantage over Real Madrid.

Xavi Hernandez and Daniel Alves scored for the defending champion in the first half and Lionel Messi added the third as Barcelona comfortably won its third game in a row — having outscored opponents 12-0 during that span.

Alves was behind many of Barcelona's best attacks down the right flank and sent a perfect cross into the area that found the unmarked Xavi, who volleyed in the opening goal in the 20th minute.

Two minutes later, Alves was played clear down the right and curled a right-footed shot from outside the area over goalkeeper Justo Villar inside the far post. Messi then scored his league-leading 15th goal in the 56the minute after a pass from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Barcelona has won 15 games and drawn four for 49 points. Madrid has 41, Valencia is at 38 while Sevilla joined Mallorca with 33 points following a 1-0 win over Almeria earlier Saturday. Deportivo La Coruna improved to 34 points following a 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Madrid can narrow the gap back to five points on Sunday when it plays Malaga.

Athletic, Espanyol, Madrid and Real Sociedad also finished the first half of the season unbeaten. It was Barcelona's second highest point total after 19 games — one less than the Spanish champions had at the same point last year.

Early pressure

It was Barcelona's first game since coach Pep Guardiola agreed to a one-year contract extension, but the defending champions faced early pressure from the host. Barcelona then started creating chances, with Messi's hard shot in the 11th minute saved by Villar.

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes saved from Diego Castro in the 18th and kept out Borja Fernandez's hard free kick in the 43rd.

Messi nearly scored again in the 64th but fired wide, and Villar then saved from Ibrahimovic.

Meanwhile, a lucky goal on a waterlogged pitch was enough for Sevilla to end a four-game league losing streak.

Defender Santiago Acasiete attempted a pass to goalkeeper Diego Alves deep inside the Almeria area in the ninth minute but the ball slowed to a halt on the soaked field, allowing Renato to pounce on it and centre to Negredo for an easy tap into the empty goal.

Sevilla eliminated defending champion Barcelona in the Copa del Rey this month but was on its worst streak in more than a decade in the league.

Sevilla was without striker Frederic Kanoute but played with more tenacity than in recent weeks. Negredo was behind most of the best chances, including a low shot that rolled wide of the post in the 34th.

Almeria had several chances to equalize but struggled with poor finishing, as goalkeeper Andres Palop saved Henok Goitom's effort in the 19th and Fernando Soriano's in the 69th.

"We were efficient," Negredo said. "They also had occasions but they just didn't take advantage."

Costly victory

Deportivo's victory came at a high cost: Luis Filipe suffered at least a right ankle fracture after scoring in the 49th, the Brazilian back coming down awkwardly and with the weight of goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz on top of him. Deportivo's standout player's leg was twisted into an awkward position, likely ruling him out for the remainder of the season.

"He not only changed this game but many others," Deportivo coach Miguel Angel Lotina said. "Tonight there is no reason to celebrate anything."

In Sunday's other games to cap the first half of the season, it's: Tenerife vs. Valencia; Sporting Gijon vs. Racing Santander; Villarreal vs. Zaragoza; Xerez vs. Osasuna; Espanyol vs. Mallorca; and Getafe vs. Atletico Madrid.