at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Madrid – Lionel Messi stretched his astonishing record of scoring in consecutive Spanish league matches to 15 Saturday as Barcelona came from behind to beat midtable Sevilla 2-1.
The latest win left Barca 15 points above second-placed Atletico Madrid, who receive Espanyol Sunday.
Atletico, in turn, are now just one point above third-placed Real Madrid, who scored a comeback win of their own Saturday, 2-1 at bottom team Deportivo Coruna.
Both Barca and Real rested key players ahead of their Spanish cup showdown Tuesday in the Camp Nou. The first leg in Madrid was a 1-1 draw.
Barca were keen to win after Wednesday's 2-0 Champions League defeat at AC Milan, but they looked just as dull and slow in the first half against Sevilla as they had in San Siro.
Former Barca youngster Alberto Botia gave Sevilla a shock lead just before half-time by heading in a precise centre from Coke.
Barca came out for the second half with more fire and purpose, and David Villa quickly made it 1-1 by heading in a centre from Dani Alves.
On the hour, Messi made it 2-1 with his sweet left foot, after playing a clever one-two with Cristian Tello.
Messi is way ahead atop the Liga scorers' chart with 38 goals, leaving him on course to break his own record of 50 established last season.
Ivan Rakitic and Alvaro Negredo came close to equalizing for Sevilla towards the end, with the Barca defence looking as shaky as in Milan. At the other end, Messi had good chances to make it 3-1 to Barca.
Barca defender Javier Mascherano said: “We didn't play well in the first half, but we had more intensity in the second half and were more creative.
“It's a shame that we are letting in so many goals. This is something we have to improve on.”
Earlier Saturday, Real Madrid had to work hard to battle out a 2-1 win at Deportivo Coruna, thanks to late goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Kaka.
Deportivo went ahead in the 36th minute, when Riki had a hopeful long blast which Real keeper Diego Lopez surprisingly let in at his near post.
Kaka equalised 14 minutes from time with a precise low drive which Deportivo keeper Dani Aranzubia failed to reach, then Higuain won the game for the whites four minutes from time with a simple tap-in after a clever move between Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The late winner silenced Riazor and confirmed that Deportivo are in crisis, probably heading for their second relegation within three years.
The whites had winger Angel di Maria sent off at the end but had no problems in holding out for the win.
Goalscorer Kaka said: “I am pleased to be able to help the team. I am better now and the team is too. Things change very quickly in football.”
Earlier Saturday, Valencia did well to battle out a 2-2 draw at lowly Zaragoza, a result which kept them in fifth place.
Brazilian striker Jonas scored twice for Valencia, after Apono and Helder Postiga had given Zaragoza a 2-0 lead.
Valencia are one point behind fourth-placed Malaga but one ahead of Real Sociedad, who moved up to sixth Friday with a 3-1 win at Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao.
Bilbao are now sixth from bottom with 26 points, just one point above Osasuna and Zaragoza. Then come Celta Vigo on 20, Mallorca on 18 and hapless Deportivo on just 16.
Mallorca crashed 3-1 at home to midtable Getafe, a result which left the islanders in massive trouble. – Sapa-dpa