By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
Lionel Messi isn't giving up the fight. Two more goals for the Argentine at Racing Santander on Sunday made it seven in a week since missing his side's last Liga clash at home to Sporting Gijon. And the 24-year-old has now scored 50 goals in a sensational season which is still not near to completion.
But none of that is likely to be enough in La Liga.
Messi slid home to give Barca the lead on a terrible pitch at El Sardinero. Racing had deliberately let the grass grow to restrict the Catalans' pretty passing but still ceded control to the visitors and the Argentine wrapped up victory in a poor spectacle as he dispatched a penalty after Domingo Cisma had been harshly penalised for daring to lay a hand on Cesc Fabregas.
It looked a soft penalty but, as Pep Guardiola pointed out afterwards, it had not affected the result. Other than a disallowed goal which was well offside, Racing never looked likely to trouble Barca and once again, Messi made the difference.
The Argentine continues to break records and as he reached 50 goals for the 2011-12 campaign, he also closed to within five of Barca's all-time top scorer, Cesar Rodriguez. In total, Messi now has 230 strikes for the Catalan club, including an incredible 150 in the last three seasons (47 in 2009-10; 53 in 2010-11; 50 so far in 2011-12). And with a possible 18 more games still to play for Barca in the current campaign, 60 or even 70 goals cannot be ruled out for the brilliant Ballon d'Or winner.
LIONEL MESSI'S 50 GOALS IN 2011-2012
Last season, Leo and Cristiano Ronaldo hit 53 apiece in all competitions and the Portuguese also looks likely to surpass that total this term. He added two more to his collection in a hard-fought 3-2 win at Betis on Saturday, taking his tally this season to 40.
Ronaldo beat Fabricio from close range to give Madrid a 2-1 lead after Marcelo had squared Kaka's deflected cross, and he also scored the winner when he hit home a rebound following Sergio Ramos' header from a Kaka corner, which had been parried into the Portuguese's path by the Betis keeper.
Ramos was involved in the game's biggest talking point of all as he blocked Jefferson Montero's shot in the final minute in what appeared a clear handball at the time. Replays suggest the ball actually hits the Seville-born defender on the thigh, however, and if even slow-motion images prove inconclusive, the referee cannot be expected to see clearly in a split second.
Earlier in the game, Xabi Alonso did definitely handle the ball in his own box, but the Basque's action was unintentional and again, the officials looked to make the correct call. So Madrid survived the toughest of tests as Ronaldo stepped forward again and Gonzalo Higuain continued his recent rehabilitation with another fine goal (his third in two games) since receiving a rollicking from Mourinho at Rayo Vallecano recently.
Higuain raced onto a lofted Mesut Ozil pass to clinically blast home the equaliser for 1-1 with Madrid labouring, and the Argentine now has 20 goals this season in all competitions. Mourinho, who welcomed back Karim Benzema from injury, will be happy with the response.
JOSE MOURINHO | 100 GAMES AT REAL MADRID
The Portuguese coach, who poured cold water on exit reports by claiming in his pre-match press conference that he is happy at Madrid, reached a milestone of his own as he coached his 100th game for the Spanish side. And the results make impressive reading.
Of those 100, the 49-year-old has led Madrid to 77 victories, with 13 draws and just 10 defeats so far over his two seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu. Guardiola, by comparison, won 71 of his first 100 fixtures at Barcelona.
And Mourinho looks set to have the last laugh, at least in La Liga, as Los Blancos maintained their 10-point lead over Barca with just 12 games remaining.
Despite Messi's best efforts, the league is heading back to Madrid.
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