Pedro double pushes Barca five points clear
Pedro scored twice as Barcelona made heavy weather of beating promoted Levante 2-1 to move five points clear at the top of La Liga on Sunday.
The champions, with 46 points from 17 matches, pulled away from second-placed Real Madrid who visit local rivals Getafe on Monday.
Sevilla ended a run of five consecutive league defeats to edge out Osasuna 1-0, a header from Frederic Kanoute in the 36th minute proving enough as the home team climbed to ninth with 23 points.
Barca were without the injured Carles Puyol, suspended Gerard Pique and rested Lionel Messi and looked rusty after the league’s two-week winter break.
The hosts struggled to open up Levante’s massed defence until the 47th minute when Pedro kept his composure in a crowded area to score.
The second came 12 minutes later, Dani Alves breaking down the right and crossing for Spanish international Pedro to sweep in his eighth league goal of the campaign.
The crossbar denied Pedro his hat-trick and Cristian Stuani pulled one back for Levante with a superb volley 10 minutes from time.
“We knew Levante would make it tough and that they would be looking for a reaction after losing 8-0 at the Bernabeu (in their last outing),” coach Pep Guardiola told reporters after Barca took their unbeaten sequence to 24 matches in all competitions.
“We didn’t play badly but we found it hard to break them open. In 50 years’ time teams will still be playing with 10 men behind the ball and it will continue to be hard to beat them.”
In other games Deportivo Coruna were 2-1 winners at Athletic Bilbao, who stayed eighth with 25 points, and Malaga dragged themselves out of the bottom three with a 2-1 victory at Sporting Gijon.
Spain midfielder Xavi made his 549th appearance for Barcelona, equalling the club record set by Migueli.
The 30-year-old was joined by Migueli in the centre circle at the Nou Camp before kickoff, and returned there after the final whistle to take the applause of the home fans.
“I’m very proud to be able to wear this shirt and to match a Barcelona legend like Migueli,” Xavi told Spanish television.
“I want to continue defending these colours with all my heart and soul, and to win more titles. I am very pleased.”
Barcelona’s coach, Pep Guardiola, told the post-match news conference: “What he has achieved is of gigantic proportions.
“I played 300 games, which I thought was a huge amount. Migueli played 549 and retired aged 38. Xavi has already played these 549 games and he is only 30, and has survived an operation on a cruciate ligament.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he reached 700 games.”
Xavi joined the Catalan club aged 11 in 1991, and after progressing through the youth ranks he made his first-team debut under Louis van Gaal against Real Mallorca in the 1998 Spanish Super Cup.
He has gone on to play in 367 league matches and 110 Champions League games, winning five La Liga titles and two European Cups.
Xavi has also won 97 caps with the Spain team, helping them to win Euro 2008 - when he was nominated player of the tournament - and the 2010 World Cup.
The playmaker has been shortlisted along with Barca teammates Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta for the Fifa Ballon d’Or, which will be decided on January 10.
Former Barca defender Migueli made his debut in 1973 and retired 16 seasons later.
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