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Barca tops Malaga to cap historic first half

Barcelona set yet another record on Sunday with a 3-1 win at Malaga as the club completed the best first half start ever to a La Liga campaign.

Barca has now won 18 of its 19 league matches at the midway point of the season, with the only blemish being a 2-2 draw against Real Madrid.

The result leaves the Catalans 11 points up on second-place Atletico Madrid and makes the team a heavy favorite to collect a fourth league title in five years.

Malaga entered the match with the best defensive record in the league, but a mistake midway through the opening half handed Barca the lead as a poor back pass from Ignacio Camacho was cut out by Lionel Messi, allowing the Argentina international to net his 28th goal of the campaign.

Cesc Fabregas doubled the advantage early in the second half when he timed his run perfectly to latch on to Messi's lobbed pass before rolling the ball inside the far post.

The visitors were in complete control and substitute Thiago Alcantara netted the third goal with eight minutes remaining as he played a one-two with Messi before driving a low shot past goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero.

Malaga's only consolation came in the 89th when Diego Buonanotte scored on a well-taken free kick.

Atletico Madrid 2, Real Zaragoza 0

Madrid, Spain - Atletico Madrid strengthened its hold on second place in La Liga on Sunday after a 2-0 win over Real Zaragoza at the Vicente Calderon.

The result moves Atletico seven points clear of third-place Real Madrid, while Zaragoza lost for the third time in four games and sits six points above the relegation places.

Atletico took the lead in the 31st minute after controlling much of the early play when Tiago met Gabi's corner kick at the front post with his head, redirecting it into the far corner of the net.

The lead was doubled seven minutes later when Atletico's Arda Turan was tripped inside the penalty area by Zaragoza's Cristian Sapunaru, allowing Radamel Falcao to hammer home his 19th league goal of the season from the penalty spot.

Real Betis 2, Levante 0

Seville, Spain - Real Betis moved into the top four in La Liga on Sunday following a 2-0 home triumph over Levante.

Ruben Castro had a hand in both of the goals for Betis as he set up the first after just seven minutes for Joel Campbell, who scored on the break following a nice ball Castro.

Levante had won three of its last four games to move to within striking distance of a place in Europe, but the visitors had no response on Sunday and watched Castro double the lead for Betis in the 63rd minute when he turned nicely with the ball inside the penalty area and fired a shot past goalkeeper Gustavo Munua.

Real Sociedad 1, Deportivo 1

San Sebastian, Spain - Deportivo moved off the bottom of the table after holding on for a 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Depor seized the lead in the 27th minute through Pizzi, who beat onrushing goalkeeper Claudio Bravo with a clever chip from the top of the penalty area.

But the home side responded with an equalizer just before halftime when Carlos Vela got into the penalty area on the right and drove a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia and inside the far post.

Deportivo then went down to 10 men in the 64th minute when defender Evaldo collected his second yellow card, although the visitors were able to hold on for a point.