Lionel Messi scored for the seventh time in four La Liga games as champions Barcelona scrapped their way to a hard-fought 2-1 win at Getafe on Sunday that propelled them five points clear at the top of the table.
Messi, La Liga’s top scorer this season, opened his account for 2019 with his 16th goal, giving Barca a 20th minute lead as he tucked the ball into the net from a tight angle after his initial shot was saved by the legs of Getafe keeper David Soria.
It took the Argentine’s career tally to a staggering 399 goals in La Liga before Uruguay striker Luis Suarez doubled Barca’s advantage in the 39th with a spectacular volley from outside the area.
Yet Getafe hit back two minutes before the interval with a close-range finish from striker Jaime Mata after a splendid team move and continued to push hard after the break.
Barca, who have won seven out of the last 10 La Liga titles, now lead the standings on 40 points after 18 games, stretching the gap to five points over their nearest pursuers Atletico Madrid, who drew 1-1 with third-placed Sevilla.
The Catalans are 10 points ahead of European champions Real Madrid, whose struggles continued with a 2-0 home defeat by Real Sociedad.
“We were aware of those results before going out on the pitch and were under pressure to make the most of the opportunity, and we went out to do that at a very difficult ground,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde told reporters.
“We expected it was going to be a tough game and it was. They got right back into the game with their goal but we are very happy. We’ve increased the gap with our rivals, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Getafe’s Mata, who had an earlier first-half strike ruled out at 0-0 for an apparent foul by team mate Angel Rodriguez, missed a big chance in the second half, ballooning the ball over the bar with Barca’s goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen stranded.
Ter Stegen then made a flying save to keep out a powerful Leandro Cabrera header, while Soria also did well to prevent both Messi, hunting that landmark 400th goal, and French defender Clement Lenglet from stretching Barca’s lead.
Real Madrid woes deepen with surprise defeat by Sociedad
Real Madrid’s nightmarish start to the new year continued on Sunday with a shock 2-0 home defeat by struggling Real Sociedad which left the European champions sitting outside the top four in La Liga 10 points behind leaders Barcelona.
Willian Jose put the Basques ahead in the third minute and after Madrid missed a series of clear chances, had two penalty appeals waved away and saw Lucas Vazquez sent off, midfielder Ruben Pardo sealed their fate with a headed goal in the 84th.
Many home fans flocked away early in dismay while others greeted the final whistle with deafening boos after Real Sociedad, in their first game under new coach Imanol Alguacil following Asier Garitano’s sacking, won at the Bernabeu for the first time since 2004.
The defeat left Madrid, who drew 2-2 with struggling Villarreal on Thursday, fifth on 30 points after 18 games in the La Liga standings, 10 adrift of Barcelona who won 2-1 at Getafe.
Real Sociedad climbed from 16th up to 11th.
Before kick-off, Madrid paraded the Club World Cup trophy they won last month for a third consecutive time but the celebratory mood was soon punctured when Real midfielder Casemiro was penalised for hauling down Mikel Merino in the box.
Jose Willian smashed his spot-kick down the middle of the goal beyond Thibaut Courtois and although Real rallied with a glut of chances throughout they somehow failed to find the net.
Karim Benzema missed a gilt-edged opportunity by firing wide of the far post with the goal gaping, while Vazquez struck the other post with what looked like an intended cross.
Real spurned a triple chance immediately after the interval as Sociedad goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli thwarted Vinicius Jr. and Raphael Varane from close range, and their task was made all the harder when Vazquez was dismissed in the 61st minute for a second booking.
Argentine keeper Rulli later appeared to trip Brazilian teenager Vinicius in the area but no penalty was awarded, a decision which left the Bernabeu faithful incensed after Madrid captain Sergio Ramos had an earlier penalty shout turned down.
“Everything went against us today, we had a terrible start, a very unfortunate play in the opening minutes and every error at this level is punished dearly,” said Real coach Santiago Solari after his second league loss since succeeding Julen Lopetegui at the end of October.
“We did everything to turn it around, we had a lot of chances none of them went in and in football it’s the goals that count. We also had a penalty appeal which no-one can understand why it wasn’t given.
“I give the benefit of the doubt to the referee for the first incident, but the second one is a penalty every day of the week.”
Griezmann special earns Atletico 1-1 draw at Sevilla
A stunning free kick goal from Antoine Griezmann earned Atletico Madrid a 1-1 draw against Sevilla in an entertaining game between La Liga's second and third-placed sides on Sunday which weakened both team' pursuit of leaders Barcelona.
Sevilla took a deserved lead at a packed and rocking Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in the 37th minute with a close-range strike from Wissam Ben Yedder following a clever team move, shortly after striker Andre Silva had smacked the post for them.
Ben Yedder missed a clear chance to double Sevilla's advantage but was thwarted by Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak, before Atletico drew level at the end of the first half through Griezmann's sizzling set-piece.
In a calmer second half, Atletico managed to plug the holes that Sevilla, through veteran winger Jesus Navas in particular, had been exploiting.
Ben Yedder missed another chance for the home side, failing to find the target when clean through while team mate Quincy Promes had an arrowed effort tipped away by Oblak.
Sevilla goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik repelled Atletico's best efforts, from Griezmann and Thomas Partey.
"It was an exciting and tough game, Sevilla did most of the attacking and we tried on the counter-attack and if Griezmann had been a little more precise we would have won it," said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.
"Sevilla caused us a lot of problems down the right wing in the first half and we managed to sort it out thanks to the hard work of Koke. It was a tense game against an extremely good side and I'm happy with the point."