Messi scores 5th goal in 6 games as Barcelona beat Eibar
MADRID: With Lionel Messi's fifth goal in six games this year, Barcelona comfortably defeated Eibar 4-0 on Sunday to keep pace with leaders Real Madrid and Sevilla at the halfway point of the Spanish league.
Substitute Denis Suarez, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez and Brazil forward Neymar also scored as the defending champions cruised to victory in the Basque Country to finish the first half of the season two points behind Madrid and one behind Sevilla.
Madrid, which has a game in hand, ensured first place by defeating Malaga 2-1 on Saturday with two goals by defender Sergio Ramos at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium to snap a three-game winless streak. Sevilla beat last-placed Osasuna 4-3 on Sunday.
"We can always improve, but I feel we are in position to fight for titles," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. "We need a good run of victories to get even closer to the top."
Denis Suarez, who came off the bench 10 minutes into the match because of a right-ankle injury sustained by midfielder Sergio Busquets, put Barcelona ahead with a low shot from the edge of the area in the 31st minute.
Messi netted for the fifth straight time in the league with a touch from close range in the 50th. That came after a cross by Luis Suarez, who scored from inside the area in the 68th before Neymar got the fourth goal after a breakaway in injury time.
Messi and Suarez are the league's leading scorers with 15 goals each, three more than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi is having another superb season with the Catalan club, having scored 28 goals in 26 matches. Only once he went two consecutive games without finding the net, dating back to September. He was held scoreless for the first time this year by Real Sociedad in a Copa del Rey match last week.
"Their players up front will wear you down," Eibar midfielder Pedro Leon said. "They will score at your first mistake."
Eibar, which has won only once in the last six rounds, had a goal disallowed for offside in the 53rd, with the score at 2-0. It is 10th in the 20-team standings.
Osasuna 3, Sevilla 4
Sevilla salvaged a key victory in a thrilling game against last-placed Osasuna to guarantee the team's best campaign ever at the halfway point.
Captain Vicente Iborra scored twice - in addition to his own goal - to help Sevilla win its fifth in a row and reach 42 points.
Franco Vazquez and Pablo Sarabia also scored for Sevilla, with both goals coming after the 80th minute, to secure the away victory.
Osasuna, now winless in 11 league games, twice had the lead but couldn't avoid its 12th loss in 19 matches. A win would have taken Osasuna off the bottom of the standings as second-to-last-place Granada lost at Espanyol on Saturday.
Sevilla had never reached the halfway mark of the Spanish league with so many points.
"We wanted to make history with the best campaign ever in the first part of the season, and we did it," Iborra said.
Sevilla, thriving under Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli, has won seven of its last eight league matches. In the previous round, it rallied late to end Madrid's record run of 40 straight games unbeaten.
Athletic Bilbao 2, Atletico Madrid 2
Antoine Griezmann scored an 80th-minute equaliser but Atletico Madrid was unable to extend its three-game winning streak, dropping further behind in the title race.
Koke opened the scoring three minutes into the match at San Mames Stadium, but Inigo Lekue equalised just before halftime and Oscar de Marco put the hosts ahead in the 56th.
Griezmann leveled with a remarkable low long-range shot.
Atletico is in fourth place, eight points behind Madrid.
Athletic, which was coming off two scoreless draws in the league, remained seventh.
Fifth-placed Real Sociedad defeated Celta Vigo 1-0 at home with a second-half goal by Juanmi, while relegation-threatened Sporting Gijon saw its winless streak reach five matches after a 0-0 draw at Real Betis.