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Monday, May 4, 2009

League title in sight after Barca crushes Real in 'clasico'

MADRID (AP) Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi scored twice each as Barcelona dismantled archrival Real Madrid 6-2 on Saturday, putting it on the verge of a first Spanish league title in three years.

News photo
Unreal ending: Barcelona's Lionel Messi battles Real Madrid's Marcelo for the ball during their match at the Bernabeu in Madrid on Saturday. Barca won 6-2. AP PHOTO

Barcelona leads Madrid by seven points with four games to play after a victory that may well have decided the title race.

"We're very proud, we took a big step, enormous," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola after his club matched the previous highest total of 85 points in a season. "We wanted to kill it, to kill the league here."

Madrid saw an 18-match unbeaten run — which included 16 victories — snapped after its first defeat since a 2-0 loss to Barcelona at Camp Nou in December.

"We've lost a lot of hope in the league chase," Madrid coach Juande Ramos said.

Gonzalo Higuain headed Madrid into the lead after 14 minutes, but it was all Barcelona from then on.

Henry equalized four minute later, and Carles Puyol gave Barcelona the lead with a header in the 20th. Messi added the third, beating Iker Casillas in the 36th from a Madrid turnover.

Sergio Ramos gave the two-time defending champions hope in the 56th, but Henry, Messi and Gerard Pique sealed the "clasico" to give Barcelona the most goals it has ever scored at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

"We showed we deserve to be champions," Messi said. "We were superior."

Barcelona, whose last silverware was a Champions League-league double in 2006, was also likely to have boosted its confidence ahead of Wednesday's Champions League semifinal at Chelsea. The teams drew 0-0 in the first leg.

United closes in

LONDON (AP) Ryan Giggs and Park Ji Sung scored to get Manchester United closer to its third Premier League title in a row with a 2-0 victory at relegation-threatened Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Although manager Alex Ferguson made eight changes to his starting lineup and rested Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of Tuesday's Champions League semifinal game at Arsenal, United controlled the game at the Riverside stadium. Giggs scored in the 25th and Park in the 51st — both with low, left-foot shots.

United's 25th victory of the season took the team to 80 points, six more than Liverpool, which was to host relegation struggler Newcastle on Sunday.

"It's a big step forward — only four games left now. I keep saying you whittle the games away until there are none left," said United manager Alex Ferguson, who is aiming to lead the Red Devils to their 11th Premier League title in 16 seasons and tie Liverpool's all-time record of 18 league championships.

Helped by a first minute strike by Nicolas Anelka, third-place Chelsea beat Fulham 3-1 to draw level on points with Liverpool although it has played one game more than the two teams above.

A blunder by England goalkeeper David James, who fumbled Nicklas Bendtner's header into the net, helped Arsenal to 3-0 victory at Portsmouth. Bendtner and Carlos Vela added more goals.

Diego Tristan's 32nd minute free kick gave West Ham a 1-0 victory at Stoke and moved the Hammers up to seventh place. Manchester City's Felipe Caicedo, Robinho and Elano all scored in the first half on the way to a 3-1 victory over Blackburn.

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