Spain: Messi scores again, Barcelona beats Sevilla

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Lionel Messi took his season goal tally to 51 by scoring in a sixth straight game as Barcelona provisionally moved within seven points of Spanish leader Real Madrid with a 2-0 victory at Sevilla on Saturday.

Xavi Hernandez curled home a free kick after 18 minutes to put Barcelona ahead at Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium before Messi stretched his tremendous scoring run eight minutes later. Andres Iniesta returned to the Argentina forward as he sped through the middle to the area, where Messi slipped the ball through Emir Spahic's legs before calmly chipping over goalkeeper Andres Palop for his 31st league goal.

Messi has 14 goals in his last six games, including becoming the first player to score five goals in a Champions League game 10 days ago. Messi's 150th league goal moved him one behind league leader Cristiano Ronaldo and within four of matching Cesar Rodriguez's club record 235.

"He's always involved," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "We're very lucky to have him and Spain is lucky enough to be able to enjoy watching a player of his talent."

Madrid can recover its 10-point advantage on Sunday when it welcomes fourth-place Malaga to Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

"We're just trying to do our job," Guardiola said. "We would have liked to have competed right to the close but I don't think it's going to be possible. (Madrid) is a very good adversary who has gotten better results."

Barcelona pounced quickly as Messi started a break in the 11th minute that closed with Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop denying Pedro Rodriguez, who was one of the visitors' most active players in the first half with three scoring opportunities.

With Eric Abidal missing as the France international awaits liver transplant surgery, fullback fill-in Adriano was tripped up by Spahic outside the left side of the area to set up the opener. Xavi swung a free kick over the defensive wall toward the near post that Palop got a hand to but couldn't keep out of the top corner.

Manu del Moral was Sevilla's most dangerous player in attack as he tested Victor Valdes moments before Messi scored his 231st goal.

Sevilla was in disarray after going down 2-0 as Palop made good stops before the Andalucian side finally started to find its feet, with Del Moral powering a header off the crossbar after Valdes and Gerard Pique hesitated to clear Jesus Navas' cross into the area.

Adriano forced Valdes to keep a low roller out after Frederic Kanoute got past Pique to nearly go through, while Palop denied Cesc Fabregas in the 45th with the former Arsenal player active in a first half in which the Catalan side managed eight shots.

The frantic first-half tempo dipped from the 48th after Valdes denied Del Moral as he tried to guide Kanoute's short cross past at the near post. Messi set up Iniesta for the next best chance in the 73rd but the Spain midfielder scooped wide after dummying Palop while under pressure from behind.

Palop denied substitute Alexis Sanchez in the 88th before Messi nearly netted a second from a free kick.

"We keep on like we have to. That's all we can do and we see how we stand at the end of the season," Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said.

Last-place Zaragoza's dim chances of remaining in the first division were handed another setback after Osasuna scored a late equalizer for a 1-1 draw.

Helder Postiga looked to have given Zaragoza a valuable victory with an 86th-minute long-range strike until Roversio Rodrigues headed home from a corner kick two minutes later to equalize.

Zaragoza is eight points from safety with 11 games to play, while Osasuna provisionally moved to fifth.

Rayo Vallecano moved closer to staying up with a resounding 3-0 win over fellow promoted club Real Betis, with Emiliano Armenteros sparking a second-half rout with a 51st minute goal. Diego Castro scored his fifth goal in six games since joining in the January transfer window from a powerful header in the 78th before substitute Raul Tamudo capped the emphatic win in stoppage time.

Also, Inigo Martinez's 81st-minute own-goal gifted Getafe a 1-0 victory against Real Sociedad, while Granada's revival continued as Carlos Martins and Guillerhme Siqueira scored first-half goals in a 2-1 victory over second-bottom Sporting Gijon, which is three points from safety despite Adrian Colunga's late effort.

On Sunday, Athletic Bilbao looks to follow up a second victory over Manchester United in the Europa League when in welcomes third-place Valencia on Sunday, when Atletico Madrid is at Mallorca and Levante plays Villarreal. Espanyol faces Racing Santander on Monday.