BARCELONA, Spain (AP):
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both scored to help their teams win in the Spanish league yesterday, a day before the two stars and Andres Iniesta vie for the FIFA Ballon d'Or prize.
Messi scored for an eighth straight Spanish league game by converting a penalty in Barcelona's 4-0 thrashing of crosstown rivals Espanyol, while Ronaldo netted twice in a three-minute span to give 10-man Real Madrid a hard-fought 4-3 victory over Real Sociedad.
Messi, who finished 2012 with a record 91 goals, is the favourite to win the Ballon d'Or for an unprecedented fourth time. Ronaldo collected the award in 2008. Messi's teammate, Iniesta, has never won football's highest individual honour.
"Andres would love to win it, just like Leo," said Barcelona forward Pedro Rodriguez, who scored twice. "I hope one of them wins it."
Ronaldo's double likely saved coach Jose Mourinho from considerably more scathing criticism after his decision to drop goalkeeper Iker Casillas almost backfired for a second straight game, with Madrid barely overcoming Xabi Prieto's hat-trick.
Despite a fan and media backlash after last round's loss, Mourinho again started rarely used Adan Garrido. But the 'keeper was sent off after giving away an early penalty, forcing the introduction of Casillas.
The crowd at Santiago Bernabeu stadium voiced its displeasure with Mourinho by jeering the coach's name when it was announced before the game and cheering for their beloved Casillas.
NOT BOTHERED BY BOOS
Mourinho said he wasn't bothered by the boos.
"Perfect. They can whistle at me if they want and then support the team," Mourinho said. "I think the jeers are for dropping Casillas and I think that they are because we are far from our objectives in the league. I accept them both."
Adan was overwhelmed last round when he conceded three goals in the loss at Malaga and he was shown to be out of his depth at home as well.
He made a poor pass that Carlos Vela intercepted, and then charged out and fouled the Mexico forward in his box. The referee didn't hesitate to show him a direct red card, creating the dramatic situation of Casillas being called off the bench to defend the penalty attempt.
"I told Adan before this match and the Malaga match that the jeers he might hear were for me, not for him," said Mourinho. "There's been a lack of respect for Adan."
Barcelona continued their record start with 17 wins and a draw to maintain their 16-point lead over third-place Madrid. The leaders opened up a 12-point advantage over second-place Atletico Madrid, who played late at Mallorca.
Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova returned to the touchline for the first time since undergoing throat surgery to remove a second tumour in two years on December 20.
Last season, Messi set a league record with 50 goals. He already has 27 before the season's midway point. Atletico striker Radamel Falcao is next with 17th, followed by Ronaldo's 16.
Earlier, Celta Vigo downed Valladolid 3-1.