Messi`s 61st goal leads Barcelona past Getafe 4-0

Madrid: Lionel Messi scored his 61st goal of the season to help Barcelona beat Getafe 4-0 Tuesday and provisionally trim Real Madrid`s Spanish league lead to a single point.

Alexis Sanchez scored in each half while Pedro Rodriguez also netted as the three-time defending champions earned its 10th straight league win to increase the pressure on Madrid, which can restore its four-point lead by beating Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Messi took his league-best tally to 39 goals, leaving him one shy of matching Cristiano Ronaldo`s record 40 in a season. With Barcelona having at least nine games left to play this season, he has a realistic shot at reaching 70 in all competitions.

"He`s capable of getting there, but I don`t know if he will,`` Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "He scored a great goal that allowed us to play with calm.``

Sanchez curled home a 13th-minute opener at the Camp Nou before Messi added another dazzling strike to his resume against Getafe, a team that has been the victim of some of his most memorable goals - including a solo run in 2007 often compared to countryman Diego Maradona`s goal against England in the 1986 World Cup.

This time, Messi ran on to Andres Iniesta`s subtle backheel pass and sent a rising shot into the top corner in the 44th minute.

Messi`s goal capped a first half dominated by the hosts, who looked in danger of letting their good play go to waste as they failed to convert a number of opportunities.

Iniesta was also involved in the opener as he looped a pass inside toward Messi, who chested it down onto the foot of Sanchez. The Chile striker cut inside to find space before curling a shot out of Miguel Angel Moya`s reach.

Sanchez saw Moya tip a similar chance around the post three minutes later, while Cata Diaz cleared Xavi Hernandez`s chip off the goal line a minute later and Messi headed the clearance over.

Although the European champion was without injured defenders Gerard Pique and Daniel Alves, it still held Getafe - which beat the Catalans in Madrid earlier this year - without a single shot on goal. Eric Abidal underwent his liver transplant surgery during the game and the 76,041 spectators paid tribute after 22 minutes to match the France defender`s number.

"We wanted to dedicate (the win) to Abidal and his cousin, Gerard (who donated the liver),`` Guardiola said.

Barcelona cruised through much of the second half before a pair of goals inside three minutes put the game away. Sanchez headed home Cuenca`s cross into the area in the 73rd before Pedro sent Messi`s cross over Moya in the 75th with his back to goal.

Messi nearly matched Ronaldo`s record in the final moments after a superb dribble through the defense only to loft a shot across the face of goal. Ronaldo has 37 goals this season.

"We did the job we had to,`` Guardiola said.

Atletico will be desperate to end a 13-year winless run against Madrid after sixth-place Osasuna beat nine-man Espanyol 2-0 to move four points clear into the final Europa League spot.

Raul Garcia scored in the 53rd, two minutes before Philippe Coutinho was sent off for a second booking, and then added his second in the 69th. Espanyol lost Juan Forlin to a red card in the 82nd.

Also Tuesday, Ruben Castro`s 13th goal of the season canceled out Carlos Vela`s 56th-minute strike as Real Betis rallied for a 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad.

In other 32nd round matchups this week, it`s: Sporting Gijon vs. Levante; Granada vs. Athletic Bilbao; Valencia vs. Rayo Vallecano; Villarreal vs. Malaga; Racing Santander vs. Mallorca; and Sevilla vs. Zaragoza.

Bureau Report