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By ESPN Staff
Oct 25, 2008

La Liga: Barca go top after rout of Almeria

BARCELONA, October 25 (Primera Liga) - Barcelona produced a wondrous first-half display to sweep aside Almeria in the sides' Primera Liga clash at the Nou Camp on Saturday night and secure their ninth consecutive win in style.

Samuel Eto'o bagged a first half hat-trick and further goals from Thierry Henry and Dani Alves saw Pep Guardiola's side race into a five-goal lead at the interval.

And Almeria were forced to play the entire second half with 10 men after Alvaro Negredo was dismissed for a frustrated lunge on Rafael Marquez.

It was the Catalans' second 5-0 win in a week after Wednesday's demolition of FC Basle in the Champions League.

And Barcelona came into this came on the back of eight successive victories in total.

The Catalans had scored 29 times in 10 matches to become Europe's most prolific attacking side this season, but Guardiola rejected comparisons with Johan Cruyff's mythical 'Dream Team' in his pre-match press conference on Friday.

However, Barca quickly had their fans drooling again with their penetrating brand of touch football.

Just five minutes had elapsed when the first goal went in.

Yaya Toure's ball from deep was only half-cleared by the Almeria defence and Eto'o pounced on the rebound to give Barcelona a perfect start.

Eight minutes later, the Catalans went two up as Messi set up Henry and the Frenchman slotted home from close-range.

Almeria had again failed to clear their lines and were punished once more.

But Barcelona were practically unplayable at this point and raced into a three-goal lead after 20 minutes.

Andres Iniesta found Xavi in the area and the star of Spain's Euro 2008 win waited for Almeria keeper Diego Alves to commit himself before sliding a perfectly-weighted ball across to Eto'o, who rolled his shot into the empty net.

It was all too easy for the home side and three became four shortly afterwards, when Messi got to the byline and rolled the ball back for the advancing Eto'o, who finished at the second attempt from close-range with an improvised back-heel.

Already four goals down, Almeria's early misery was compounded on the half-hour mark, when Negredo scythed down Marquez close to the corner flag and received a straight red card.

Barcelona continued to look like scoring with every attack and duly went five goals ahead after 37 minutes.

There appeared little danger as Dani Alves lined up a free-kick from long-range, but the Brazil full-back unleashed a vicious low drive which found its way through the wall and bounced just in front of his namesake Alves in the Almeria goal before flashing into the keeper's bottom right-hand corner.

With the game well and truly won, Barca began the second half at a slower pace.

And Almeria created the first chance of the second half, when Guilherme rifled a shot against the crossbar from long distance after 47 minutes.

Barcelona remained a joy to watch, though, and Henry brought the ball down gloriously in the area after 51 minutes, but was unable to hit the target on the turn.

Two minutes later, the former Arsenal forward set up Iniesta in the area, but the Spain midfielder unselfishly pulled the ball back across goal instead of shooting himself and Almeria cleared.

Bojan Krkic, Alexander Hleb and Victor Sanchez all came on in the latter stages, but Barcelona were unable to add to their tally.

Eto'o came closest with a low shot after being set up by Carles Puyol, but Alves made a fine save with his left foot.

Barca were nevertheless given a rapturous ovation on leaving the pitch and the win sees the Catalans move provisionally to the top of the Primera Liga, where they sit level on points with Valencia, who travel to lowly Recreativo Huelva on Sunday.

Almeria remain in sixth, but could drop several places after Sunday's matches.

Struggling Osasuna were still seeking their first win this season after losing 2-0 at home to Real Betis in the Primera Liga on Saturday.

Turkey midfielder Mehmet Aurelio gave Betis the lead with a freekick that flew through the wall just after the interval, and Argentine striker Mariano Pavone scrambled home the second after home keeper Ricardo Lopez spilled a freekick at the end.

Former Spain coach Jose Antonio Camacho took charge of Osasuna two weeks ago, replacing the sacked Jose Angel Ziganda, but has failed to inspire a change in fortunes so far with two consecutive defeats to his name.

Betis climbed to 12th on eight points from eight games with their second win. Osasuna are second bottom with four points from eight games.

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