Messi claims fourth Ballon d'Or
02:31 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Barcelona unbeaten at halfway stage of La Liga season after 3-1 win at Malaga

World player of the year Lionel Messi nets his 37th goal of the campaign

Second-placed Atletico Madrid stay 11 points behind after beating Zaragoza 2-0

Italian champions Juventus drop points to see Serie A lead cut to three points

Lionel Messi continued his remarkable season with yet another goal as unbeaten Barcelona secured an 11-point lead at the halfway stage of the Spanish league season on Sunday.

The Argentine, who won his fourth world player of the year award last week, scored once and was involved in both other goals as Barca won 3-1 at sixth-placed Malaga for a record 18th victory from 19 rounds.

It surpassed the previous leading halfway mark of 52 points that Barca recorded in winning the 2010-11 title.

While Atletico Madrid kept pace with a 2-0 win at home to Real Zaragoza on Sunday, third-placed champions Real Madrid now trail by 18 points following Saturday’s 0-0 draw with bottom club Osasuna.

Messi was an unused substitute in Thursday’s Spanish Cup win over Cordoba, but he returned to action at La Rosaleda along with cancer-stricken coach Tito Vilanova.

Read: Kaka sent off as Madrid miss Ronaldo

“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,” Vilanova told reporters.

“We have to go to Atletico and we have to go to Real Madrid so we can’t just stop now, we have to keep going.”

While Real sorely missed the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo in Pamplona, Messi underlined his value to the Catalans – who were without injured striker David Villa.

He broke the deadlock in the 27th minute, pouncing on a poor backpass by Ignacio Camacho before cutting back inside the keeper and slotting home his 28th league goal in 19 matches and 37th overall this season.

Five minutes after the halftime break Messi delivered a beautiful pass over the Malaga defense – which has conceded the fewest goals of any of La Liga’s 20 clubs this season – for Cesc Fabregas to apply a calm finish past Willy Caballero.

Young midfielder Thiago Alcantara made it 3-0 with 10 minutes to go after cutting in from the right, playing a simple one-two with Messi and driving a low left-foot shot into the net.

Malaga, like Barcelona playing in the last 16 of the European Champions League next month, hit back with a superb late consolation free-kick by Diego Buonanotte that his compatriot Messi would have been proud to call his own.

Messi, who scored a world record 91 goals in 2012, is now 10 clear of Atletico’s Radamel Falcao in the La Liga scoring charts.

The Colombia striker netted a first-half penalty against Zaragoza to be two ahead of Ronaldo, who has 16.

Midfielder Tiago opened the scoring as Atletico made it 10 wins from 10 home games.

Real Betis moved up to fourth place with a 2-0 win at home to Levante, as Ruben Castro netted his 11th league goal this season after an opener from on-loan Costa Rica international Joel Campbell.

Deportivo La Coruna drew 1-1 at mid-table Real Sociedad to mean Osasuna’s move from the bottom of the table was a brief one.

In Italy, Juventus gave hope to Serie A’s title hopefuls after dropping points in the 1-1 draw at Parma on Sunday.

The champions went ahead in the 52nd minute thanks to an own-goal by Jonathan Biabiany, but midtable Parma hit back with 13 minutes to play through Sergio Floccari.

Second-placed Lazio closed the gap to three points with a 2-0 win at home to Atalanta, while Napoli reclaimed third from Inter Milan with a 3-0 win over Palermo.

Seventh-placed AC Milan could only draw 0-0 at Sampdoria.