Spain: Messi's 76th passes Pele
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Lionel Messi surpassed Pele's milestone of goals in a calendar year by scoring for the 75th and 76th time in 2012 to move within nine of Gerd Mueller's all-time record as Barcelona won 4-2 at Mallorca in the Spanish league on Sunday.
Xavi Hernandez unlocked Mallorca's defense with a free kick in the 28th minute before Messi struck in the 44th. Cristian Tello added a third goal a minute later at Iberostar stadium.
After Mallorca netted twice early in the second half to breathe life into the match, Messi stepped up to score again the 70th to ensure victory as Barcelona rebounded from its loss at Celtic in the Champions League with its 10th win in 11 rounds.
"Leo's records are spectacular'' said Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova. "It's spectacular when you think that he scores so many goals. Some few players reach these numbers in seven or eight seasons, he does it in one. And most of his goals are great goals.''
This is the latest scoring feat for the Argentina forward, one of the leading candidates for the Ballon D'Or. Messi scored 73 goals in the 2011-12 season for Barcelona, breaking the previous European club record of 67 goals set by Mueller in 1972-73. He also set a Spanish league record of 50 goals last season and broke Cesar Rodriguez's 57-year milestone of 232 goals to become Barcelona all-time leading scorer.
Also, second-place Atletico Madrid stayed three points behind the pacesetters by easing past visiting Getafe 2-0 thanks to goals by Adrian Lopez and Arda Turan.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, needed a late goal from rarely used young player Alvaro Morata to win 2-1 at Levante and remain eight points behind Barcelona in third place.
Joaquin Caparros' Mallorca tried to follow Celtic's defensive blueprint from Wednesday's upset in Glasgow.
The strategy didn't last even half an hour.
Xavi Hernandez took full advantage of a foul earned by Cesc Fabregas on the edge of the area. The Spain midfielder bent a beautiful free kick over the defensive barrier that turned goalkeeper Dudu Aouate into yet another spectator as it fell into his net.
"Both Xavi's opener and Leo's goal to make it 4-2 were the turning points to the match,'' said Gerard Pique, who made his first start for Barcelona since injuring his foot in September.
Messi converted Barcelona's 75 percent of possession into a deserved second goal when the Argentina forward dribbled by several defenders and unleashed a left footed-shot that Aouate let slip through his hands.
Tello then quickly made it 3-0 by curving a strike from outside the area into the far side of the goal.
When it appeared Barcelona would cruise to the comfortable victory, two errors allowed Mallorca to get back into the game.
Mallorca's Michael Pereira pulled one back in the 55th after Javier Mascherano lost the ball. Two minutes later, Victor Casadesus made it 3-2 from the penalty spot following Sergio Busquets' handball in the box.
But Messi received a chested pass from Alexis Sanchez and smashed the ball into the top corner to restore Barcelona's two-goal advantage and crush Mallorca's hopes.
Messi's seventh double of the season increased his league-leading tally to 15 goals. He has 20 in all competitions this season.
Pele scored 75 goals for Brazil and Santos in 1958. Mueller had 85 in 1972 for West Germany and Bayern Munich.
With strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema injured, Cristiano Ronaldo scored for Madrid in the 21st after receiving a gash above his left eye in a collision with an opposing player.
Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said that Ronaldo was having trouble with his vision by halftime and had to be substituted. Mourinho sent on an extra defender looking to protect his slim lead with the water-logged pitch encumbering almost every attack.
Madrid, even without its three top scorers, almost scored twice more as Pepe and Sergio Ramos both hit the crossbar.
But Mourinho's tactic backfired when Levante substitute Angel Rodriguez held off Pepe to control Obafemi Martins' pass and slot the ball beyond goalkeeper Iker Casillas in the 62nd.
Madrid had another golden opportunity when Jose Callejon was fouled by David Navarro on the edge of the area, only for goalkeeper Gustavo Munua to block Xabi Alonso's resulting spot kick in the 73rd.
As time ticked down, Mourinho sent on Morata in the 83rd and one minute later the forward met Alonso's free kick to head it by Munua.
"I was very happy to help the team,'' said the 20-year-old Morata. "Two years ago Munua saved a clear goal for me. I have had more chances and I knew that one day the goal would arrive and today was the day.''
Elsewhere on Sunday, Athletic Bilbao beat visiting Sevilla 2-0 for its first back-to-back wins of the season, while 10-man Valencia stayed winless away this season after drawing 1-1 at Valladolid.