Messi the inspiration as Barcelona master Malaga

Lionel Messi celebrated his fourth successive Ballon d’Or award by once again inspiring Barcelona to a 3-1 victory at Malaga.

Messi the inspiration as  Barcelona  master Malaga

Messi won his record-breaking Fifa award on Monday, taking the honour ahead of Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and continued his magnificent scoring run by breaking the deadlock last night in the 27th minute.

The Argentinian then teed up Cesc Fabregas to put Barcelona two goals to the good after the interval before substitute Thiago made the game safe late on — despite Diego Buonanotte grabbing a terrific consolation from a free-kick in the final minute.

It was ultimately a comfortable evening for the Primera Division leaders, who are 11 points clear of closest challengers Atletico Madrid.

The sides meet again tomorrow as Barca host Malaga at Camp Nou in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final.

Atletico Madrid extended their advantage over third-placed Real Madrid, who drew 0-0 with Osasuna on Friday, to seven points with a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Real Zaragoza last night.

After a dominant opening spell, Tiago eventually headed Atletico in front on the half-hour mark.

Radamel Falcao added the second from the penalty spot seven minutes before the break after Arda Turanwas brought down by Cristian Sapunaru.

And despite failing to build on their advantage, the hosts comfortably saw out the second period without any major scares.

Real Betis boosted their European hopes as goals from Joel Campbell and Ruben Castro handed them a comfortable win over Levante.

The result moved Betis into the Champions League places and three points behind Jose Mourinho’s struggling Madrid.

Juventus saw their lead at the top of Italy’s Serie A cut to just three points as a fine individual goal from Nicola Sansone kept Parma’s lengthy unbeaten home run intact.

Antonio Conte’s Juve were desperate to atone for last weekend’s surprise defeat to Sampdoria, a result which saw Lazio close to within five points of the league leaders.

Andrea Pirlo threatened to hand Parma a first home defeat since March with his fortuitous free-kick just after the break, but Sansone danced behind the Juve back line to level the match and rescue a deserved point.

With Lazio cruising to a 2-0 victory over Atalanta, and Napoli staying in touch with a 3-0 win against Palermo, Juve are under pressure to beat Udinese next week.

In France, Lyon took full advantage of their opportunity to return to the top of Ligue 1 with a 2-1 win over Troyes at the Stade de L’Aube on Saturday.

Following Paris St Germain’s draw with Ajaccio on Friday, Lyon had Maxime Gonalons (11) and Samuel Umtiti (75) to thank for the goals that took them two points clear of the capital club.

Their weekend was made complete after third-placed Marseille slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Sochaux last night.

The big game in Portugal yesterday ended all square as Benfica twice fought back from behind against Porto to earn a 2-2 draw at the Stadium of Light.

The result was good enough to keep Benfica three points clear of their visitors at the top of the table, although Porto have a game in hand.

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