LiO SHOWS NO MERCY

MADRID - European Football Player of the Year award winner Lionel Messi scored a brace as Barcelona won 3-1 at Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday to restore their five-point advantage over Real Madrid at the summit.

MADRID - European Football Player of the Year award winner Lionel Messi scored a brace as Barcelona won 3-1 at Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday to restore their five-point advantage over Real Madrid at the summit.

Four days after collecting the award, Messi turned on the style, scoring a brilliant opener and then heading a crucial 80th minute goal after Depor had equalised.

It took Messi's goal tally to nine alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored Barca's third goal.

"We have won all three matches this week but there are plenty of games still to go and it is difficult to retain this title," Messi said.

It was Barca's first win at the Riazor Stadium since 2005 and the champions now lead Real, 4-2 winners over Almeria, by five points having played one game more.

Barca travel to Dinamo Kiev on Wednesday needing a point to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the hero and villain for Real Madrid playing a pivotal role in their 4-2 comeback win over Almeria at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, only to be sent off late on for violent conduct.

"I am human and make mistakes too," said Ronaldo. "It was an instinctive reaction and I have apologised to my team-mates."

Ronaldo won a dubious 82nd minute penalty, which he subsequently missed, before substitute Karim Benzema rammed in the rebound.

Ronaldo then scored his sixth goal of the season two minutes later to make it 4-2, after Gonzalo Higuain had equalised, before collecting a second yellow card for kicking Juanma Ortiz.

Earlier Sevilla dropped two vital points in a 1-1 draw at home against 10-man Valladolid. - Sapa-AFP

X