Barca march on


Iain Rogers

Rampant unbeaten leaders Barcelona ended the first half of the La Liga season with a record 55 of a possible 57 points when Lionel Messi scored one goal and had a hand in two more in a 3-1 win at Malaga on Sunday. An 18th victory in 19 games for Tito Vilanova's side in an entertaining match at the Rosaleda restored their 11-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid, who earlier secured a 10th win in 10 home matches with a 2-0 success against Real Zaragoza.

Barca's win also extended their advantage over arch rivals Real Madrid to 18 points after the stuttering champions, mired in third, were held to a 0-0 draw at bottom side Osasuna on Saturday. Barca have overhauled the previous record of 52 points they set two years ago under Pep Guardiola, scoring 64 goals and conceding 20, and are well on the way to breaking Real's record of 100 points for a season set last term.

The only points they have dropped were in a 2-2 draw at home to Real Madrid in October. Barca also set a new La Liga best by scoring for the 37th match in a row.

"It's incredible," Vilanova, back on the bench after undergoing throat surgery last month, told a news conference. "It will be tough to repeat a second half like the first, it would not be normal," he added. "We are 11 points ahead of Atletico but we still have to go to play there, we still have to play at Real Madrid.

Malaga, who play at Barca in a King's Cup quarter-final first leg on Wednesday, have the meanest defence in the league but a howler by Ignacio Camacho gifted the visitors their opener in the 27th minute. Messi intercepted the midfielder's wayward back pass and after leaving Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero sprawling on the turf stroked the ball into an empty net.

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