Reborn Ibrahimovic leads Barcelona back to top spot

MADRID, March 27, 2010 (AFP) - Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his third goal in a week, and 15th of the season, as Barcelona won 1-0 at Real Mallorca on Saturday to nudge Real Madrid off the top of the La Liga table.

Club record signing Ibrahimovic had an easy tap-in on 62 minutes as Barca became only the second team to win at Mallorca this season and move three points ahead of Real Madrid who host derby rivals Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (L) competes with Mallorca's Portuguese defender Nunes during their Spanish league football match on March 27, 2010. AFP photo

The win also boosts Barca morale further for Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg showdown at Arsenal.

"I was never anxious about not scoring goals," said Ibrahimovic. "The important thing is to win and I am fine with everything because in the end the goals come."

For Mallorca it was only the second time they had dropped points at home this season and Sevilla, two points behind, can move above them into fourth with a win at Villarreal on Sunday.

Despite the difficulty of the game Barca coach Pep Guardiola still chose to put top-scorer Lionel Messi and midfielder Xavi on the bench with the Arsenal game in mind.

Thierry Henry and Gerard Pique were two other big stars rested and youth product Jeffren Suarez, 22, made his first league start of the campaign.

With two minutes gone Mallorca hit the woodwork with Aritz Aduriz thumping a fierce shot off the right hand post and goalkeeper Victor Valdes got up quickly to stop Gonzalo Castro's follow-up shot.

"This was a big win for us at a tough ground and we did our part," said Valdes. "These are three vital points."

Barca had the ball in the net on 11 minutes through Pedro Rodriguez but the goal was disallowed for a marginal offside.

Argentine centre-back Gaby Milito had a header tipped over and Jeffren saw a dipping shot go just over as Mallorca were put under intense pressure.

However, the islanders rattled the post again shortly before half-time with Borja Valero's free-kick crashing against the same post Aduriz had hit.

Just five minutes into the second half Messi, with 11 goals in his last six games in all competitions, came on for Andres Iniesta although it was unclear whether the Spanish international injured or not.

But it was a corner that provided the breakthrough on 62 minutes with Carles Puyol's stabbed shot fumbled by Dudu Aouate and Ibrahimovic was on hand to smash the ball home.

Ibrahimovic then released a superb pass using his back, reminiscent of Ronaldinho's days at Barca, to lay the ball to Messi whose fierce shot was tipped over.

Messi should have wrapped up the game in the final few minutes but shot over when well-placed.

Real Madrid must now respond with a win over derby rivals Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday as they aim to maintain their impressive record of their rivals.

Atletico have not beaten Real in the league in over a decade and are in eighth place after a turbulent season.

Tenerife picked up only their third away point of the season with an 85th minute penalty from Alejandro Alfaro salvaging a 1-1 draw at relegation rivals Malaga.

Antonio Apono had headed Malaga into a 66th-minute lead but Tenerife, the only team yet to win away this season, levelled with Alfaro's late penalty to move above above Valladolid into 18th spot, one point from safety.

Malaga, challenging for the Champions League last season, are six points above Tenerife on 31 points.

Third-placed Valencia are 21 points behind Barcelona but can pull further away from their rivals below with a win at Real Zaragoza later on Saturday.

Zaragoza are two points above the relegation zone and need to start winning their home matches to stay in the top flight.

Sevilla have fallen eight points behind Valencia and are at Villarreal on Sunday as new coach Antonio Alvarez, appointed until the end of the season, takes charge for the first time.

Alvarez worked as an assistant to Manolo Jimenez who was sacked on Tuesday following a 1-1 draw against bottom side Xerez.

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