Messi sets 50-goal mark as Barca stay eight clear

MADRID, April 23, 2011 (AFP) - Argentine superstar Lionel Messi on Saturday became the first player to score 50 goals in a Spanish season as Barcelona and arch-rivals Real Madrid both triumphed ahead of their mouth-watering Champions League duel.

Messi reached his latest landmark when he found the target three minutes from time in his team's 2-0 win over Osasuna as Barcelona maintained their eight-point lead at the top of La Liga.

He had already equalled the previous best mark of 49 goals scored by Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas when he netted in the 1-1 draw against Real last weekend.

Now Messi has 31 goals in the league and nine in the Champions League after finishing with seven in the King's Cup and three in the Spanish Supercup.

Earlier Saturday, Real crushed Valencia 6-3 to set the foundation for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first leg clash at their Bernabeu home.

In midweek, Barca's hopes of a treble had come to an end when Real beat them 1-0 in the King's Cup final, but coach Pep Guardiola shrugged it off saying that the league is their main priority.

However, ahead of another 'clasico' in Europe, Guardiola chose to leave the likes of Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta on the bench against Osasuna.

The impressive Jeffren Isaias supplied the 24th minute cross for Spain international David Villa to end one of his worst spells in front of goal when he fired passed the keeper after having gone eleven matches and two months without scoring.

In the second half Barca tightened up and substitute Messi came on to secure the three points and his place in the record books.

"It wasn't a very strong performance from us. Osasuna are always a difficult team and we had players who don't play that often. It was important for Villa to get his goal to boost his confidence," said Guardiola.

Looking ahead to the game with Real he added: "If we go to the Bernabeu aiming to defend they will take advantage. We need to go and score goals even though we have problems with injuries. At the moment not many people would back us as Madrid are playing a lot better."

A second-string Real side romped to a 6-3 win over Valencia.

Coach Jose Mourinho fielded just Iker Casillas and Ricardo Carvalho from the side which beat Barcelona in the final of the King's Cup as he also looked to rest his players.

Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain made the most of his opportunity with a hat-trick while Brazilian star Kaka grabbed a brace.

Karim Benzema opened the scoring when the keeper failed to reach a Higuain pass and the Frenchman slotted passed two defenders on the line.

Higuain then slipped the ball home while defender Jeremy Mathieu dawdled in possession.

Still before half time Kaka and Higuain netted from crosses with the Valencia defence again ball watching.

After the break Valencia were a little better with Higuain completing a hat-trick before Roberto Saldado finally got the home side on the score sheet.

A piece of quality from Kaka saw him finish clinically after nutmegging a defender and then Valencia gave some respectability to the scoreline with goals from Jonas Goncalves and Jordi Alba.

"We want to finish the season well and with the feeling that we are capable of winning in any stadium. Our aim is that Barca win the league with the points they pick up and not those that we give away," said Mourinho.

"This is a competition in which we aren't favourites but after winning a trophy, we have won well here and played spectacular football. We did our job and have had two very tough games after each other."

Athletic Bilbao boosted their European hopes with a 2-1 win in a hard-fought Basque derby against Real Sociedad.

They are now five points clear of sixth-placed Sevilla thanks to goals from Iker Muniain and Gaizka Toquero.

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