Lionel Messi came off the bench to score twice for Barcelona as the Spanish Liga leaders needed to fight back from behind to win 2-1 at Real Racing Club, but Sevilla and Villarreal slipped further off the pace with defeats away from home.
Messi watched from the sidelines as Barça struggled to make their domination count at El Sardinero and, with 56 minutes gone, the hosts took a surprise lead. Rafael Márquez brought down Jonathan Pereira in the area and Nikola Žigić converted the resultant penalty, prompting Josep Guardiola to send his talented Argentinian forward into the fray. The 21-year-old made a rapid impact, turning the ball in after a Xavi Hernández header came back off the crossbar with 65 minutes gone. Messi then sent his side back 12 points clear of closest rivals Real Madrid with a volley ten minutes from time, taking his tally to 16 for the season on a day when he also struck Barcelona’s 5,000th league goal. Marquez and Gerard Piqué both saw red late on for the Liga pacesetters.
Third-placed Sevilla succumbed 1-0 at ten-man Real Sporting de Gijón in the late game, Valencia CF consolidated fourth with a 3-2 victory against UD Almería, while Villarreal failed to advance their top-four claims as Ángel Lafita was twice on target for RC Deportivo La Coruña in a 3-0 win. The Yellow Submarine sit a point clear of Deportivo and two from Club Atlético de Madrid, however, as the capital side were beaten 2-1 at home by Real Valladolid and remain winless in their last five matches. Elsewhere, CA Osasuna lifted themselves off the foot of the table by overcoming visitors RCD Mallorca, the new bottom side, 1-0 courtesy of Walter Pandiani, Real Betis Balompié drew 2-2 with Getafe and Espanyol drew 1-1 with Recreativo de Huelva.