Barcelona moved four points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga as a double from Lionel Messi eased them to a 2-0 win at Eibar on Saturday.
The Argentine overcame his recent penalty yips to open the scoring from the spot and then headed in his side’s second from Ivan Rakitic’s corner.
And it took the Catalans half an hour to break down Eibar’s well-organised defence with a sweeping move that led to Borja Ekiza handling a shot from Messi.
The four-time World Player of the Year had missed five of his last 11 penalties for club and country, but made no mistake from the spot as he thumped the ball home left-footed.
But it was to be Messi himself who put the game beyond any doubt in usual circumstances as he was left free inside the area to head Rakitic’s cross into the far corner and move two goals clear of Cristiano Ronaldo in the fight to be La Liga’s top goalscorer.
VINE. GOAL Penalty Messi yang membawa Barca memimpin 1 angka. Eibar 0-1 Barcelona. https://t.co/1akS0pmTQe
— Cules + FJKT48™ (@FCB48_ID) March 14, 2015
However, it was Eibar who came closest to scoring in the final quarter when Federico Piovaccari hit the bar in stoppage time.
Atletico remain in fourth, a point behind third-placed Valencia, as they had to settle for a 0-0 draw at Espanyol after Miranda saw red in first-half stoppage time for an elbow on Abraham.
Despite being a man light, Atletico still created the better chances after the break and were desperately unlucky when referee Inaki Vicandi Garrido ruled out Antoine Griezmann’s sweetly struck volley from Diego Godin’s knock-down for an apparent push by the Uruguayan.
Raul Garcia then had the best chance of the match 12 minutes from time when he was played in by Griezmann, but Kiko Casilla made a brilliant save low to his right to deny the Spanish international.
Arsenal cemented their position in the Premier League’s top four as Olivier Giroud’s blistering strike inspired a 3-0 rout of West Ham on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger’s third-placed side are aiming to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish for the 18th year in a row and they are well on course after a fifth successive league victory.
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It was also the ideal preparation for next week’s Champions League last 16 trip to Monaco, who hold a 3-1 lead from the first leg.
Giroud broke the deadlock seconds before the break as the France striker cut in from the right edge of the penalty area to lash an unstoppable left-footed shot into the far corner.
— Adiat Aflaha (@cimsaurs) March 14, 2015
Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey got Arsenal’s second, and his first since December, in the 81st minute when he played a one-two with Giroud and finished with aplomb.
Mathieu Flamini came off the bench to seal the points with an 84th minute goal that lifted the Gunners four points ahead of fourth-placed Manchester United and six clear of fifth-placed Liverpool.
Aston Villa’s revival under new manager Tim Sherwood gathered pace as they boosted their bid to avoid relegation with a crucial 4-0 win at fellow strugglers Sunderland.
The visitors took the lead when Belgian striker Christian Benteke fired home in the 16th minute for his fifth goal of the season.
Just two minutes later, Gabriel Agbonlahor ran clear to slot home after Sunderland defender John O’Shea made a hash of dealing with Ciaran Clark’s pass.
Agbonlahor netted again eight minutes before half-time, prompting a group of angry Sunderland fans to surround the home bench to berate boss Gus Poyet.
Stewards and police moved in to protect Poyet and the majority of the crowd were streaming towards the exit by the 44th minute as Benteke netted.
The chaos enveloping Sunderland was summed up when they played several minutes at the start of the second half down to 10 men after Seb Larsson emerged late from the dressing room.
Crystal Palace pushed QPR deeper into the relegation mire with a 3-1 victory over their London rivals at Selhurst Park.
Alan Pardew’s side swept into a three-goal lead by half-time thanks to strikes from Wilfried Zaha, James McArthur and Joel Ward.
Matt Phillips produced one of the goals of the season in the closing stages, but the winger’s brilliant drive, from at least 40 yards out, came too late to spark a QPR fightback.
QPR’s fourth successive Premier League loss extended their miserable run to nine defeats in their last 10 games, leaving the west Londoners third bottom and four points from safety.
Leicester wasted a chance to improve their survival hopes as 10-man Hull held on for a 0-0 draw at the King Power Stadium.
Hull had to play the final 18 minutes with 10 men after midfielder Tom Huddlestone was sent off for a second booking following his foul on Jamie Vardy.
But Nigel Pearson’s bottom of the table team couldn’t find a winner and they remain seven points from safety.
West Brom ground out a 1-0 win against Stoke at the Hawthorns.
The only goal arrived in the 19th minute when Craig Gardner’s cross was met by Brown Ideye, who beat Stoke defender Phil Bardsley to head in his seventh goal of the season.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho predicts his side will go on to win the Premier League title after their Champions League exit at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain.