Barcelona give stricken Vilanova winning boost
Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi and Cristian Tello steered La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 3-1 win at Valladolid on Saturday giving stricken coach Tito Vilanova a timely boost in his battle against cancer.
Vilanova left hospital earlier in the day, 48 hours after undergoing surgery to remove a tumour in his saliva gland.
Jordi Roura took charge of Barca in the absence of the 44-year-old Vilanova who will be out of the game for a number of months to undergo radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
He wasn't far from the minds of his players, however, as the squad wore messages of support wishing "strength and bravery" for the coach.
The win allowed Barcelona to finish 2012 with a nine-point advantage over second-placed Atletico Madrid with 16 wins in 17 games, the 2-2 home draw with Real Madrid being the only game in which Barca have dropped points.
They were quick out of the blocks on Saturday.
Alexis Sanchez should have opened the scoring as early as the fifth minute, but after running onto a Dani Alves pass, he somehow shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
Valladolid goalkeeper Dani Hernandez was called into action on 11 minutes to stop a shot from Messi and Xavi went close with a curling free-kick after 26 minutes that zipped just past his post.
Messi hit a free-kick against the post on 35 minutes after centre-half Henrique Sereno had blocked Thiago Alcantara on the edge of the area, but it looked as if the home side would survive to the interval fairly comfortably.
That wish was shattered with three minutes of the half remaining when a quick attack saw Messi find full-back Jordi Alba in an advanced position on the left and his cross left Xavi with the easiest of finishes.
Pedro Rodriguez went close for Barca with a header from a Dani Alves cross just after the break before Messi doubled the lead with a stunning goal on the hour mark.
The Argentine put the ball through a defender's legs during a driving run before hitting a crisp left-footed shot into the corner to finish 2012 on a staggering 91 goals.
The capacity 26,500 crowd sportingly applauded Andres Iniesta onto the pitch as a late substitute before Javi Guerra gave the home side a late consolation from close range.
But substitute Tello made it three for Barca with his only touch of the game in injury time.
Earlier, Mallorca surprised an in-form Real Betis with a 2-1 away win that denied the side from Seville a chance to move into fourth position.
Benat Exteberria put Betis ahead on five minutes, but the Balearic side hit back with goals from Victor Casadesus and a Javi Marques penalty just after the break for a much needed win.
It was the first win in 12 outings for Joaquin Caparros' side.
Later Saturday, Real Madrid, 16 points behind Barcelona in third place, go to fourth-placed Malaga.
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