Barcelona close the gap with win at Mallorca

Barcelona close the gap

Eurosport

Lionel Messi gave the hosts the lead with a club record 35th league goal of the season with 25 minutes on the clock after the hosts had made much of the early running, but, in truth, they could have gone to the interval with a healthier advantage.

Early second-half Barcelona dominance was brought to a brief shuddering halt with the dismissal of Thiago for a second yellow card but they soon regained their fluency and secured the win through Gerard Pique to move to within three points of their great rivals Madrid, who faced Real Sociedad in the late kick-off.

While Barca have put together a winning streak of six games, their counterparts from the capital followed up a wasteful performance against Champions League hopefuls Malaga last weekend with another draw in a feisty encounter against relegation fodder Villarreal on Wednesday to leave the gap at the top of the table at six points – almost half the figure it was a little over a week earlier.

But away form has been Barcelona's Achilles' heel this season and Joaquín Caparrós' side remained compact whilst also putting pressure on the visitors' back three of Piqué, Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol during a scrappy opening ten minutes.

However, the calibre of a side can often be measured by their effectiveness in front of goal - and although Mallorca's superiority in the opening exchanges offered a few glimpses of the goal of Victor Valdes, none were taken.

In contrast, the side from Catalonia took full advantage when Alexis Sanchez was felled by Fernando Tissone about twenty-five yards out and right of centre when Messi's cross-cum-shot free-kick to the back post evaded both a predatory looking Sanchez and Mallorca goalkeeper David Aouate to creep in off the post.

A goal in front, Barcelona began to monopolise possession and Messi looked to add to his already club record haul of 35 league goals and would have done, had it not been for some timely blocks from the home side.

The sides went to the interval with only one goal separating them, despite a deflected Sanchez effort shaking the Mallorca crossbar,

The second half had the potential to turn into a procession but when Thiago intercepted a pass with his chest the referee interrupted it as a deliberate handball and - having already received a yellow in the first half for a late challenge - he was duly dismissed.

Following on from Wednesday's refereeing controversies at El Madrigal, the standard of officiating in La Liga will again be in sharp focus following Thiago's dubious red card that had the potential to completely change the dynamic of a match that could have prove pivotal in deciding the destination of the league championship come May.

It was to matter little though as Barcelona, at times, put in an absolute master class in ball retention to stave off the attacking advances of the home side. In truth, Victor Valdes only had to make one save in the second period when Victor capitalised on some lax defending from Pique to draw a sharp save at the near post.

Pique then put the result beyond any doubt when he followed up Messi's rebound off the post to ensure they took all three points back to Catalonia.

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