Lionel Messi scored his 43rd goal of the season 13 minutes from time was enough for Barcelona to beat third-place Valencia 1-0 and open up a ten point gap over second-place Real Madrid to 10 points.
Messi was denied on at least two occasions in the first half, while Vicente Guaita produced a fine reaction save to thwart David Villa on his first return to Mestalla. Valencia also played their part in an open game but eventually succumbed to Messi’s 27th league goal of the campaign, the No10 turning in Adriano’s cut-back despite the best efforts of Guaita to keep it out.
One place below Valencia, Villarreal consolidated their grip on fourth spot with a 1-0 home win against Hércules CF, Giuseppe Rossi scoring midway through the first half to end Valencia’s four-game league winless streak. The New Jersey-born Rossi has 22 goals this season, including 13 in the league.
Hercules hasn’t scored an away goal since Oct. 24—a stretch of 11 games.
Ikechukwu Uche scored his first goal since May 2009 to give Zaragoza a 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao, which has lost four straight. Uche, sidelined for most of the past two seasons after two left knee injuries, was in tears as he celebrated.
Real Madrid plays Malaga on Thursday.