MADRID: On a night marked by the surprise announcement that coach Luis Enrique will leave Barcelona at the end of the season, his team routed relegation-threatened Sporting Gijon 6-1 to return to the top of the Spanish league on Wednesday. Lionel Messi scored his league-leading 21st goal less than 10 minutes into the match at the Camp Nou to help Barcelona earn a comfortable victory. Barcelona leads the standings for the first time since the opening round, one point ahead of Real Madrid, which was held by Las Palmas to a 3-3 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Madrid, which still has a game in hand, scored twice with Cristiano Ronaldo in the final minutes to erase a two-goal deficit and salvage a point despite playing most of the second half without 10 men after a red card for Gareth Bale. Luis Enrique announced that he will not coach Barcelona next season in the post-match news conference, saying that he needed to rest. “The reason clearly had to do with the way of life I need to have in this profession, constantly having to find solutions, constantly trying to improve my team,” he said.
After scoring important late winners in the last two games, Messi put Barcelona on the board with a header off a long cross into the area in the ninth minute. It was his 36th goal in 36 matches this season, and his 12th in the last 11 league games. The Argentina playmaker also hit the crossbar with a free kick in the 59th minutes, a couple of minutes before being substituted. Two minutes after Messi opened the scoring, Barcelona added to the lead with an own goal by Juan Rodriguez, who deflected a shot by Luis Suarez.
The Uruguay striker scored with a volley from inside the area in the 27th, and his second-half substitute, Paco Alcacer, added the fourth from close range after a pass by Messi. Neymar found the net with a well-placed free kick in the 65th, and Ivan Rakitic rounded off the scoring with an angled shot in the 87th as Barcelona made it five league wins in a row. Sporting, which could have left the relegation zone with a victory, got its lone goal from Carlos Castro in the 21st. Third-place Sevilla, five points off the lead, hosted Athletic Bilbao yesterday. Fourth-place Atletico played at struggling Deportivo La Coruna on the same day.
REAL MADRID 3, LAS PALMAS 3
Real Madrid looked set to return to the top when Francisco “Isco” Alarcon scored in the eighth minute. But Pedro “Tana” Dominguez equalized two minutes later and Las Palmas took advantage of Gareth Bale’s sending off with a second yellow card for an altercation with an opponent at the beginning of the second half. The visitors, sitting 12th in the standings, went ahead with a penalty kick converted by Jonathan Viera in the 56th and a counterattack goal scored by Kevin-Prince Boateng in the 59th. Ronaldo helped Madrid rally by converting a penalty in the 86th and netting the equalizer with a header in the 89th. “We have to improve a lot of things,” Madrid left back Marcelo said. Madrid, seeking its first league title since 2012, had been leading the league since the eighth round. Zinedine Zidane’s team has scored at least one goal in 45 straight games, breaking Barcelona’s record from 1942-44.
CELTA VIGO 2, ESPANYOL 2
All four goals were scored in an 11-minute span in the first half of a game between two mid-table clubs. Iago Aspas put Celta ahead in the 21st and Gerard Moreno equalized in the 28th before Daniel Wass restored the hosts’ lead in the 30th. Pablo Piatti leveled in the 32nd. Celta played a man down from the 43rd after defender Andreu Fontas was sent off.
OSASUNA 1, VILLARREAL 4
Colombian striker Santos Borre scored twice in the first half as Villarreal easily defeated last place Osasuna to remain in sixth place. Bruno Soriano and Roberto Soldado also scored for the visitors. The result extended Osasuna’s winless run in the league to 17 games.
GRANADA 2, ALAVES 1
Granada won its third game in a row at home to move closer to leaving the relegation zone. Alaves had two players sent off in second-half injury time.- AP