Messi nets 2 as Barcelona beats Zaragoza 3-1
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -Lionel Messi netted his eighth brace of the season and created a third goal to steer Barcelona to a 3-1 win over a feisty Real Zaragoza on Saturday as the Spanish league leaders kept alive their club-record start.
Unbeaten Barcelona's 11th victory in 12 rounds opened an 11-point gap over Real Madrid and piled the pressure on the defending champions to keep pace later against Athletic Bilbao.
Messi started the scoring at Camp Nou Stadium in the 16th. After Zaragoza leveled through Paco Montanes in the 24th, Messi assisted Alex Song four minutes later to re-establish Barcelona's advantage for good before adding a third goal in the 60th.
The Argentina forward's ninth multi-goal game in league play took his competition-best tally to 17 goals, five more than Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Barcelona recovered Carles Puyol for its defense with the center back seeing his first action since dislocating his elbow on Oct. 2, while Song started as its holding midfielder in place of suspended Sergio Busquets.
After missing a clear chance early, Messi got the hosts going by slotting a left-footed shot just inside the post to finish off a move he started by playing Jordi Alba wide before sliding forward to receive the left back's return pass.
Zaragoza, which had won three of its previous four games, pushed forward in search of the equalizer that came from Montanes when he fired in a loose ball after a corner kick.
The visitors' elation lasted four minutes before Song scored his first goal for Barcelona since joining from Arsenal this offseason, slicing Messi's back pass through a crowded box to find the net.
Behind again, Zaragoza still succeeded in winning its share of possession and strung together attacks that tested Barcelona's defense before Messi decided the contest when he curled an unstoppable long-range strike off the lower part of the upright.
Barcelona's Andres Iniesta hit the woodwork in the 80th.
Earlier, Roberto Soldado's 90th-minute penalty gave Valencia a 2-1 win over Espanyol, which finished with nine men and slid into last place.
Malaga, meanwhile, was held to 0-0 at struggling Osasuna, as the Costa del Sol side's winless streak reached four matches.
Valencia hosts Bayern Munich on Tuesday in the Champions League and Barcelona visits Spartak Moscow, with Malaga visiting Zenit St. Petersburg the next day.
On Sunday, Sevilla hosts Real Betis in the always intense Seville derby, while second-place Atletico Madrid visits Granada six points behind Barcelona.
Also, it's: Celta Vigo vs. Mallorca, Deportivo La Coruna vs. Levante, and Getafe vs. Valladolid.
Rayo Vallecano is at Real Sociedad on Monday.