Reuters: Unbeaten La Liga leaders Barcelona ended 2012 on a high when Lionel Messi struck his 91st goal of the year in a 3-1 win at Real Valladolid while their arch-rivals Real Madrid slumped to a 3-2 defeat at Malaga.
It was the perfect tonic for Barca following the news that Coach Tito Vilanova had to have throat surgery last Thursday.
The 44-year-old was released from hospital earlier on Saturday and was absent from Valladolid’s Jose Zorrilla stadium as Barca racked up a record 16th win in 17 games this season. Real’s woes deepened after the stuttering champions suffered a second consecutive setback following last weekend’s 2-2 draw at home to Espanyol.
Coach Jose Mourinho sprung a surprise by leaving Captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas on the bench and the defeat left Real 16 points adrift of Barca.
They are seven behind second-placed Atletico Madrid, who won 1-0 at home to Celta Vigo on Friday, and their lead over Malaga in fourth was cut to two points.
Barca scored 49 points, from 17 matches, a record for this stage of a La Liga campaign, and the only match they failed to win was a 2-2 draw at home to Real in October.
Atletico, resurgent under Argentine coach Diego Simeone, have 40, with Real on 33 and Malaga, who are coached by Mourinho’s predecessor at Real, Manuel Pellegrini, on 31.
Real Betis, who are fifth, slipped three points behind Andalusian rivals Malaga with a 2-1 defeat at home to Real Mallorca.
Mallorca ended a run of nine defeats and three draws stretching back to the beginning of October and are 16 on 16 points.