Lionel Messi and Barcelona ended the year in style and record-breaking fashion as the Argentine superstar tallied yet another goal and the Spanish La Liga leaders recorded yet another win.
Messi added to his record for most goals in a calendar year with his 91st score in Barca's 3-1 triumph over Valladolid on Saturday night. The victory allowed Barca to keep its nine-point lead over second-place Athletic Madrid, which registered a 1-0 home win over Celta Vigo.
Barcelona will bring a stunning 16-0-1 mark and 49 points -- a Spanish record to start a season -- into the holiday break.
For the record, Messi finished 2012 with 91 goals for club and country, eclipsing the record of 85 held by German great Gerd Mueller, who had held it for four years. The Argentinean scored 79 times for Barca, 59 in the Spanish League, 13 in the UEFA Champions League, five in Copa del Rey, two in the Spanish Super Cup and 12 for his country (seven in World Cup qualifiers, another seven in friendlies).
Barca won without coach Tito Vilanova, who was forced to miss the game due to throat surgery to remove a second tumor from a saliva gland. Assistant coach Jordi Roura guided the team, which did not miss a beat. Vilanova was released from the hospital hours before kickoff.
"This win is for Tito," Barca defender Dani Alves said. "It's a surprise and joy that he is home now. We are here to help him any way he can. Football is secondary now, he is fighting for his life."
Messi helped set up Xavi Hernandez's goal in the 43rd minute before he put in a spectacular goal in the 59th minute, dribbling through the legs of a defender. Valladolid's Javi Guerra made it interesting in the 89th minute but Cristian Tello added a third for Barcelona in stoppage time.
"We should have killed off the game earlier by taking a three-goal lead so as not to suffer," Xavi said.
Roque Santa Cruz, Iker Casillas, Willy Caballero
Real Madrid's nightmare season continued with yet another loss, a 3-2 decision at fourth-place Malaga (9-4-4, 31) as Paraguayan and substitute Santa Cruz scored goals in the 72nd and 76th minutes for the winners. Francisco Alarcon put the hosts ahead in the 49th minute as Real coach Jose Mourinho's decision to bench Spanish international goalkeeper Casillas, voted the best keeper in the world by players the past four seasons, backfired.
Casillas, who backstopped Spain to the 2010 World Cup title, downplayed the move. "The coach decides who plays," he told broadcaster La Sexta. "During the week I could tell I wasn't going to play but it wasn't a setback. Mourinho didn't say anything to me, he did not explain anything to me. He doesn't give me explanations when I play, so when I don't play he doesn't do so either. You have to respect the coach's decision and I have to train a lot more to try to win back confidence."
Real could have scored early on, but Malaga's Argentine keeper Caballero knocked a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick off the crossbar. Malaga allowed Real to equalize on a Sergio Sanchez own goal in the 66th minute before Karim Benzema closed out the scoring for RM in the 82nd minute. Real (10-4-3, 33) enters the break 16 points behind Barca.
Mourinho admitted that Real faced "an insurmountable gap" but said he did not think he would be fired. "Football is football, why should I fear for my job?" he told a post-game press conference. "We coaches know perfectly well that football has no memory. The titles you have won don't count, the work you have done doesn't count.”
The Paraguayan, a substitute, scored four minutes into stoppage time for the final goal of Valencia's 4-2 home win over Getafe.
Fernando Torres, David Luiz
The Spaniards jumped started Chelsea to an 8-0 rout of Aston Villa with the first two goals of the English Premier League match. Torres struck only three minutes into the match and Luiz added a second in the 28th minute against U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Another Spaniard played a vital role in a result as Michu tallied the league-leading 13th goal of the season in Swansea City's 1-1 home draw with Manchester United. Michu found the back of the net in the 29th minute.
The Spanish standout striker created Gareth Barry's goal -- a header in the third minute of stoppage time -- to boost second-place Manchester City to a 1-0 victory over cellar-dwelling Reading.
Suarez, a Uruguayan, put the exclamation point in second-half added time on Liverpool's 4-0 home rout over Fulham. It was Suarez's 11th goal of the season.
Nicholas Burdisso, Pablo Osvaldo, Erik Lamela
Three Argentine players produced all the goals for AS Roma in its 4-2 home triumph over AC Milan. Burdisso started things out with a goal in the 13th minute, Osvaldo gave the hosts some breathing room in the 23rd minute before Lamela secured a brace, scoring in the 30th and 61st minutes.
The Uruguayan tallied an insurance goal for visiting Napoli in its 2-0 shutout at Siena via a penalty kick in the 90th minute.
German Denis, Luis Muriel
Muriel, a Colombian, lifted Udinese to a 1-0 advantage in the 33rd minute. But Denis, an Argentinean, leveled it with a penalty in the 40th minute as the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Two minutes after Frederik Sorensen had given Bologna a 1-0 edge in the 54th minute, the Chilean equalized in the 56th minute for visiting Parma, which went on to a 2-1 win.
The Argentine's 89th-minute penalty kick closed out Fiorentina's 3-0 whitewash of host Palermo.
Esteban Cambiasso, Rodrigo Palacio
Cambiasso, another Argentine, connected for the equalizer off a header in the 85th minute to give second-place Inter a 1-1 home tie with Genoa. Countryman Palacio almost found the back of the net twice early on in the second half, firing high in a one-on-one situation with French goalkeeper Sebastien Frey, who saved a later effort.
Mauricio Pinilla, Arturo Vidal
One Chilean converted a penalty and another missed his attempt for their respective sides in Juventus' 3-1 away triumph over Cagliari. Pinilla scored off his try in the 16th minute to give Cagliari a 1-0 lead. Vidal had an opportunity to equalize for Juve in the 72nd minute, but he failed to put his home. The visitors, however, scored three late goals -- two by Alessandro Matri and a third by Mirko Vucinic to take Vidal off the hook.
Barrientos, an Argentine, struck for the equalizer in the 36th minute for Catania, which fell at Pescara, 2-1, on a goal late in stoppage time by Romulo Togni.
Lisandro Lopez, David Ospina
Lopez, another Argentine, scored one goal and created another for Olimpique Lyon in its 3-0 home win over 10-man Nice as in Ligue 1 action. He lifted Lyon into the lead in the 40th minute before he set up right back Anthony Reveillere's first goal in five years in the 61st minute. Bafetimbi Gomis completed the onslaught with a 77th-minute after Colombian goalkeeper Ospina fouled him in the penalty area . Ospina was red carded.
A hard tackle by Brest's Abdou Sissoko on the Argentine in the 30th minute helped leaders Paris Saint-Germain to a 3-0 win. Enjoying a man advantage, PSG struck three times in the second half -- from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kevin Gameiro and an own goal by Bernard Mendy.
Besides his pride, the only other injury the Mexican international goalkeeper might have suffered was a back injury from taking the ball out of the back of the net so many times in AC Ajaccio's 4-2 home loss to Stade Rennes. Ajaccio's new coach Albert Émon, hired to replace the fired Alex Dupont on Jan. 2, watched the game from the stands. He must have liked what he saw early on, but could not like what transpired as the match wore on. Ajaccio twice had one-goal leads before Rennes rallied. Cheick Diarra broke the deadlock in the 60th minute and Julien Feret's second goal of the game gave the visitors some much needed breathing room 12 minutes later. The final goal came after Ajaccio was ruled to have made an illegal back pass from Carl
Michael Lewis, who has written about soccer for four decades, is the only journalist who has covered every MLS Cup. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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