La Liga: Barcelona 4 Almeria 1
By Football News
Barcelona closed the gap on La Liga leaders Real Madrid to one point with a routine 4-1 win over Almeria at Camp Nou on Sunday.
The champions' surprising 3-1 loss to Real Sociedad last week saw them fall behind arch rivals Real in the title race, but they got back to winning ways in comfortable fashion against Francisco's relegation-threatened side.
Alexis Sanchez gave Barca the lead in the opening 10 minutes before Lionel Messi netted his 229th La Liga goal with an inch-perfect free-kick - a strike that saw the Argentinian overtake Real legend Raul to become the third-highest Liga scorer in history.
Angel Trujillo unexpectedly pulled one back just before the half-hour mark, but Almeria spent the vast majority of the remainder of the match camped in and around the edge of their penalty area as Barca attempted to put the result beyond doubt.
And despite Neymar and others squandering several chances during the second half, they eventually wrapped up the three points in the final 10 minutes as first Carles Puyol tapped in from close range before Xavi curled home a cultured effort in the 89th minute.
With fellow title challengers Real and Atletico Madrid drawing 2-2 in a frenetic derby earlier on Sunday, Barca went into the game knowing they had to improve on last week's performance to make the most of the opportunity to move within touching distance of La Liga's summit.
Gerardo Martino - who watched from the stands after being sent off at Sociedad - made six changes from the side defeated at Anoeta, with Andres Iniesta being the most high-profile player to lose his place.
Barca looked destined to put that disappointment behind them from the outset, with Sanchez opening the scoring after just nine minutes by converting the rebound after Esteban failed to hold Cesc Fabregas' effort.
Almeria's task then became even more daunting on 25 minutes, as Messi expertly curled an unstoppable free-kick into the top-left corner from 25 yards to claim yet another goalscoring milestone.
However, Almeria earned themselves an unlikely lifeline just two minutes later, when Miguel Angel Corona's inviting corner was headed past the stranded Victor Valdes by defender Trujillo.
Messi almost restored Barca’s two-goal cushion late in the first half, but he nodded just wide after beating Esteban to a loose ball in the area.
The hosts made a sluggish start to the second half, but that did not stop Xavi creating a great opportunity for Neymar as he fed the Brazilian into the left side of the area, only for the forward to shoot tamely straight at Esteban.
Valdes then had to bail Barca out just after the hour, as Aleix Vidal inexplicably found space in the home side's area before letting fly with a powerful left-footed effort that went right at the keeper.
Neymar wasted another big chance shortly after as he opened his body up and shot well wide of the far post from close range.
But Barca finally put breathing space between themselves and Francisco's men seven minutes from time as Puyol knocked in after Messi's towering header had hit the bar, before Xavi stroked an excellent finish beyond Esteban from 20 yards.