Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas had kept his side in the game with some excellent saves, including one off an Eto'o penalty kick in the second half, while at the other end Royston Drenthe missed a prime chance for Real when clean through on goal, only to have Victor Valdes save well coming off his line. With seven minutes left, Barcelona's center back Carlos Puyol won an aerial ball and Eto'o knocked it over the line from close range. Then in stoppage time Messi raced clear to finish the game off as Real pushed for an equalizer.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola refused to entertain talk that the title race is effectively over. "Only 15 games, have been played and there are a lot of other [teams] around us to play, like Villarreal and Valencia, among others," he said. "In January, we return to play in three competitions and that will take a lot out of the side." Guardiola also explained why he'd so vehemently complained to the referee at the start of the game when Messi was fouled three times in succession. "I was worried that the game was going to carry on like that. I let myself become slightly carried away by the atmosphere of the game."
Real's new coach Juande Ramos denied that there had been orders to target Messi. "Messi will always play with the ball at his feet and is therefore more likely to get injured," he said. "There was no form of aggressiveness in this match." He agreed with Guardiola that it's too early to concede the championship. "It's a substantial lead," he said, "but there is still a lot of La Liga to be played and it depends a lot on how others teams do. Barcelona proved to be in excellent form, but let's see what happens in the second half of the season when there is also the Champions League to be played."
There was a slew of yellow cards at Valencia, and one red for Espanyol's Francisco Rufete after his side had taken a 1-0 first-half lead through Roman Martinez. Valencia exploited its one-man advantage in the second through a goal from defender Raul Albiol, followed by Vicente Guillen's fourth of the campaign to win the game with nine minutes left.
Villarreal dropped to fourth place after losing 1-0 at Sevilla on a lone goal from Brazilian midfielder Renato just before halftime. When Villareal had Joseba Llorente red-carded after 54 minutes, Jozy Altidore was subbed in as the lone forward, but looked isolated as he was repeatedly dispossessed or failed to find his teammates on the few occasions he received the ball. The win lifted Sevilla to third, behind Valencia on goal difference.
Atletico Madrid kept up its good form, moving ahead of city rival Real into fifth with a 2-0 home win over Real Betis Sevilla. Sergio Aguero, the current object of desire of every major club in Europe, and his Argentine compatriot Maxi Rodriguez scored the goals.
In the battle at the bottom, Adrian Colunga scored the only goal of the game with six minutes left to give Recreativo Huelva the 1-0 win over Osasuna, now four points adrift at the foot of the table. Getafe thumped Mallorca 4-1, Bilbao beat Sporting Gijon 3-0, and Real Valladolid beat Deportivo La Coruna by the same score. Almeria and Racing Santander shared two goals and two points, while Malaga topped Numancia 2-0.
Goals scored Dec. 13-14: 24 in ten games (2.4 per game)
Goals scored season 2008-09: 438 in 150 games (2.92 per game)