Nothing like not one, but two Clasico matches within a five-day span to be used as a warm-up for key UEFA Champions League clashes.
Barca will play arch rival Real Madrid twice this week, first in Copa del Rey's semifinal second leg at Camp Nou on Tuesday, and then in a La Liga encounter at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
Those games will prepare the two teams for UEFA in the coming weeks, as Real Madrid will face Manchester United on March 5 and Barca will host A.C. Milan a week later in the European competition.
Barcelona bounced back from a disappointing Champions League performance and result at A.C. Milan on Wednesday, losing 2-0. On Saturday, the Spanish first division leaders rallied for a 2-1 comeback victory over visiting Sevilla, as Argentine great Lionel Messi connected for the game-winner to maintain its 12-point advantage over second-place Atletico Madrid.
Real Madrid also came from behind, besting last-place Deportivo Coruna by the same score.
“We have to be at our best against Real Madrid because otherwise we won’t get through the tie,” Messi told the Barça TV program El Marcador. “The only thing I’m thinking about right now is for myself and the team to put in a good performance and reach the final. What other people say doesn’t affect me in the least.”
Sevilla grabbed a 42nd-minute lead on an Alberto Botia goal before Spanish international striker David Villa tied it up seven minutes into the second half. It was left up to Messi, who tallied the game-winner in the 60th minute as he extended his La Liga record by scoring in his 15th consecutive match. If you are counting, Messi has 38 league goals and 49 overall this season.
"You can lose a match but the really important thing is the reaction," Barca assistant coach Jordi Roura said. "It was a really tough game and they scored against us while we had the match more under control.
"But once again the team rose to the occasion and showed the pride needed to secure a very important victory for the league campaign. Their reaction was splendid."
In Real's win, Cristiano Ronaldo came off the bench to set up Argentine Gonzalo Higuain's game-winner in the 88th minute. After Ivan "Riki" Sanchez scored for Deportivo in the 32nd minute, Brazilian midfielder Kaka, who also played a role on Higuain's goal, scored his first goal of La Liga season to equalize in the 73rd minute.
Real and Argentine forward Angel Di Maria was sent off in stoppage time after incurring his second yellow card.
Falcao scored his 21st goal of the season to boost 10-man Atletico Madrid remain unbeaten at home behind a 1-0 win over Espanyol. The Colombian international striker found the back of his net in the 38th minute. Atletico was forced to play the second half a man down after captain Gabi was given his marching orders for his second yellow card.
Giovani dos Santos
The Mexican forward opened the scoring for Real Mallorca, but the hosts could not hold the lead en route to a 3-1 loss to Getafe. Dos Santos tallied in the 24th minute to boost Real into a 1-0 lead, but the visitors scored three goals in the final 20 minutes to decide the game.
The Mexican striker struck for his 11th goal of the season, an insurance tally in the 76th minute, to help Real Sociedad secure a 3-1 triumph at Athletic Bilboa in a Basque derby.
Pabon, a Colombia striker on loan from Parma (Italy), completed the scoring in Real Betis' 3-0 romp past Malaga. Pabon tallied from a difficult angle late in the opening half.
The Spaniard scored the second goal in the 40th minute of Swansea City's 5-0 rout of fourth-tier Bradford to capture the English League Cup at Wembley.
Tevez came off the bench to tally the insurance goal in Manchester City's 2-0 home win over Chelsea. The result kept City, which broke a three-game winless streak, within 12 points of leader Manchester United. After Yaya Toure gave the hosts a 63rd-minute lead, the Argentine standout fired home a hard shot in the 85th minute.
The Honduran defender usually is known for his defensive prowess, he put the finishing touches of Wigan Athletic’s 3-0 triumph over Reading with a goal and an assist. Figueroa set up Arouna Kone, sending a header to his teammate as the forward deflected it past goalkeeper Adam Federici in the 44th minute. Figueroa scored three minutes after intermission as he completed a nifty give-and-go with Franco Di Santo.
In a wild affair that saw seven goals, three penalty kicks, two red cards and the game-winner five minutes into stoppage time, the Chilean scored a vital goal off a penalty kick in the 87th minute for Cagliari in its 4-3 triumph over Torino. Too bad nobody was on hand to witness it because in a closed-door encounter due to safety concerns. The dramatic finish followed the game's surprising turn of events. Pinilla had given Cagliari a 3-2 advantage with his 87th-minute penalty. But Ronaldo Biachi knotted things up for Torino with a PK of his own two minutes into stoppage time. Cagliariwon as Daniele Conti scored his second goal of the match, off a deflected shot deep into added time.
Matías Ezequiel Schelotto
A midfielder who was born in Argentina but now an Italian citizen, Schelotto scored the equalizer in the 71st minute to give Inter Milan a 1-1 draw with AC Milan in a derby confrontation at San Siro.
Martinez went from goat to hero in FC Port's 2-1 win over Rio Ave. The Colombian striker got off to a nightmare start when he chipped a penalty kick right into the goalkeeper's arms. Rio Ave quickly turned that into a goal by Braga on the counterattack. Martinez, however, was far from making an impact on the game as he equalized into first-half stoppage time on yet another penalty. He added the game winner in the 77th minute.
Enzo Pérez, Oscar Cardozo, Eduardo Salvio
Three South Americans did all the scoring for Benfica in its 3-0 win over FC Pacos de Ferreira. Perez, an Argentinean, gave the hosts an eighth-minute lead. Two minutes into the second half, Cardozo, a Paraguayan, made it 2-0. Another Argentine, Salvio, closed out the scoring six minutes from time.
An Argentinean, Lopez started Lyon's comeback from a one-goal deficit in a 3-1 home win over FC Lorient. After Jeremie Aliadiere gave the visitors an 11th-minute lead, Lopez equalized in the 24th minute.
Unbeaten in their last four games (2-0-2), the Mexican goalkeeper and his A.C. Ajaccio came back down to earth with a stinging 3-1 home defeat to 10-man Lille. The Mexican goalkeeper made three stops, but could not deny a determined Lille side. Ochoa's personal highlight came early on when he made a very good save on Salomon Kalou.
The Argentine center back scored in the 85th minute to help Nice to a 2-0 win over visiting and 10-man Stade de Reims. Civelli headed home his fourth goal of the season.
Izaguirre, a Honduran international defender, set up the opening goal of Celtic's 5-0 thrashing of Dundee United. He sent a cross into the penalty area that goalkeeper Robert Douglas parried away. But midfielder Joe Ledley slotted the rebound home for the first of his two goals.
Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for more than three decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com.