Samuel Eto'o struck the only goal of the game as FC Barcelona triumphed at Real Valladolid CF but they were unable to extend their six-point advantage over rivals Real Madrid CF as the capital club won 1-0 away to Málaga CF.
Eto'o scored four times in the first half against Valladolid in November's 6-0 rout at Camp Nou and the striker proved the thorn in their side again when he opened the scoring on 40 minutes, lobbing Sergio Asenjo for his 26th league goal of the season after swapping passes with Xavi Hernández. Eto'o spurned the best of further chances but the UEFA Champions League contenders, who started with Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry on the bench, had done enough ahead of the visit of FC Bayern München on Wednesday.
Gonzalo Higuaín struck four times against Málaga earlier in the season and, in a quirk of fate, he matched the achievement of Eto'o by scoring the only goal against the same opposition in the return fixture. Iker Casillas had been the busier of the two goalkeepers in the first half as Juande Ramos's men laboured at La Rosaleda but Higuaín's powerful solo run and cool finish in the 49th minute separated the sides.
Third-placed Sevilla FC stretched their lead over Villarreal CF in fourth to nine points after contrasting results away from home. Frédéric Kanouté's first-half penalty, his eleventh goal in the last eight league games and 16th of the season, claimed victory at RC Recreativo de Huelva and made it 19 points from the last 21 available for Manuel Jiménez's charges while goals in the first 35 minutes from Álvaro Negredo, Pablo Piatti and Mané earned UD Almería a comfortable success against the Yellow Submarine. Elsewhere, Athletic Club Bilbao overcame RCD Mallorca 2-1 while Real Betis Balompié ended with nine men in their 3-3 draw at home with CD Numancia.
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