Lionel Messi struck twice as Barcelona beat Hercules 3-0 on Saturday to clinch a record-equalling 15th consecutive Spanish league win as the champions moved seven points clear of Real Madrid. Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said he was honoured to match the long standing record of the great 1960-1961 Real Madrid side which was captained by Alfredo di Stefano.
"It is a tremendous honour to win 15 consecutive league games and equal the record of (Alfredo) di Stefano's Real Madrid side," said Guardiola. "I am sure that some team will beat the record but nobody has managed to do it in 50 years. We are proud. If 50 years have passed, it shows how difficult it is."
Barcelona can claim a record 16th win in a row if they defeat Atletico Madrid at home next weekend. Spanish international Pedro Rodriguez scored his 12th league goal of the season to open the scoring on 43 minutes on Saturday before Ballon d'Or winner Messi struck twice in the 87th and 89th minutes as Barcelona made it a perfect 10 league away wins.
Messi now has 21 league goals this season. "He (Messi) has scored 164 goals at the age of 23 and is fourth in Barcelona's all-time scorer's list, but if he continues like this he is going to break all the records," said Guardiola.
Hercules were the only side to beat Barcelona in the league this season having won 2-0 at Camp Nou, but the champions had their revenge to maintain their 100% away record. The victory keeps the pressure on Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid side who need to win at Osasuna on Sunday to close the gap back to four points.
In other matches, 10-man Sevilla drew 3-3 at Deportivo La Coruna in a thrilling game at the Riazor Stadium. It looked bleak for Sevilla after Tunisian striker Lassad (eds note: one name only) struck in the 15th and 62nd minutes to put the hosts into a 2-0 lead. Sevilla then lost goalkeeper Andres Palop who was sent off on 57 minutes for handling outside of the area.
However, Sevilla scored three times in 16 minutes, with Alvaro Negredo scoring a brace, to turn the game in their favour, but then watched on as Laure Ruiz levelled on 88 minutes. Sevilla were furious as the referees' assistant appeared to raise his flag for offside, but Laure's goal stood and angry Sevilla players encircled the assistant on the touchline.
The result leaves Sevilla, who face Real Madrid in the Kings Cup semi-final second leg on Wednesday, 10 points off the top four. Barcelona welcomed back Brazilian international right back Dani Alves, whose future is up in the air with contract negotiations ongoing, from injury as compatriot Adriano made way.
With 10 minutes gone Messi saw a shot go centimetres wide, but Hercules had a golden chance on 20 minutes. Paraguayan Nelson Valdez, who scored both goals in the 2-0 win at Camp Nou, flicked a header on to strike partner David Trezeguet but the veteran French forward prodded wide with only Victor Valdes to beat. At the other end, Alves screwed a shot wide of the goal on the half hour mark, much to the irritation of team-mate David Villa who was pleading for a square pass.
Barcelona had been 4-0 up after half an hour in their Kings Cup semi-final against Almeria in midweek. However, Hercules were a tougher nut to crack and it took a defence-splitting pass from Xavi to break the deadlock just two minutes before half-time. His pinpoint pass picked out Pedro who thumped an unstoppable shot into the right corner. Villa and Xavi both went close early in the second half and Pedro had a goal disallowed for offside on 65 minutes.
Substitute Francisco Farinos, on the pitch less than 15 minutes, was sent off for a second booking five minutes from time and Messi capitalised two minutes later with a weaving run and neat finish. Alves crossed to set up the little Argentine for an easy tap-in on 89 minutes. Levante moved off the foot of the table with a 2-0 home win over Getafe on Saturday. Valdo put Levante ahead on 47 minutes before Ecuadorian striker Felipe Caicedo, on loan from Manchester City, netted his eighth goal of the season seven minutes later as the club moved up to 18th place.
Malaga replace Levante at the foot of the standings after a 2-1 loss at home to fellow strugglers Real Zaragoza.