Pedro brace sends Barcelona five clear in Spanish league
Madrid: Pedro Rodriguez netted a brace as champions Barcelona started 2011 with a nervy 2-1 home win over Levante to move five points clear of Real Madrid at the Spanish first division summit.
Pedro struck on 47 and 59 minutes to clinch an 11th successive league victory for Barca and Real must now defeat derby rivals Getafe on Monday to move back to within two points of their bitter rivals.
Brazilian Dani Alves set up the opener for Pedro, faking to shoot twice before laying the ball back for the forward to drill home Barcelona`s first goal of the new year two minutes after the break.
Alves was the provider for the second goal as well, teeing up Pedro to curl a controlled shot into the corner.
It was a special game for Spanish World Cup winner Xavi, who equalled Barcelona`s all-time appearance record.
The 30-year-old playmaker made his 549th outing to draw level with legendary centre-back Migueli.
"We wanted to win this game for him (Xavi)," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. "I played for many years here and reached 300 games which seemed a lot. If his tendons hold out I think he could reach 700 games."
With seven minutes gone Andres Iniesta had a chip tipped over and David Villa then sliced a shot wide as Levante, who lost 8-0 to Real Madrid in the King`s Cup last time out, rode their luck.
Xavi should have marked his landmark appearance with the opening goal after 26 minutes but shot wide after Iniesta had created the chance with a neat run down the left.
Barcelona got the perfect start in the second half, however, as Pedro scored two minutes after the restart.
Pedro made it four goals in his last two league games with his second, curling a fine shot into the left-hand side of the goal just before the hour.
Uruguayan substitute Christian Stuani gave the champions a late scare by brilliantly volleying home on 80 minutes but Barcelona survived a tense final 10 minutes to take the points.
Barcelona`s next match is against Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday in the second leg of their King`s Cup last 16 tie, with the first leg at Camp Nou having finished 0-0.
Bilbao sank to a 2-1 defeat against Deportivo La Coruna earlier on Sunday, with Adrian Alvarez scoring both goals as the visitors recorded only their second away win of the campaign.
Elsewhere 10-man Valencia defeated Champions League rivals Espanyol 2-1 on Sunday thanks to a controversial late winner from Spanish international Juan Mata.
Mata looked to be offside as he scored the decisive goal in stoppage time as fourth-placed Valencia moved three points clear of Espanyol and two points behind Villarreal in third.
Valencia took the lead courtesy of a towering header from Aritz Aduriz on 29 minutes but team-mate Ricardo Costa then headed into his own net as he tried to clear a cross from the right.
Goalscorer Aduriz saw his night ruined on the hour mark when he was harshly red-carded for hitting Francisco Chica with a stray arm prompting the defender to collapse on the ground.
Espanyol pushed but Valencia scored in the dying seconds with Costa heading across for Mata to score from close range as the visitors saw their offside claims waved away.
Sevilla moved six points off the top four ending a run of five consecutive league defeats with a 1-0 home win over Osasuna on Sunday.
Mali striker Freddy Kanoute headed the winning goal on 35 minutes as Sevilla moved up to ninth in the table.
Kings Cup holders Sevilla take on Malaga in the second leg of their last 16 tie on Wednesday having won the first leg 5-3.
Malaga moved out of the bottom three with a 2-1 win at relegation rivals Sporting Gijon.
Malaga came from a goal down to notch only their second win in 13 games and move three points clear of the drop zone.
Sporting stay second from bottom and are without a league win since mid-October.