MADRID, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Barcelona stretched their lead at the top of the Primera Liga to 10 points with a 2-0 victory over basement side Alaves at the Nou Camp on Sunday.
Sweden striker Henrik Larsson broke the stubborn Alaves resistance when he poked in from close range two minutes after the break and Argentine teenager Lionel Messi made it 2-0 with a follow-up strike late in the game.
Barcelona have now won their last 18 matches in all competitions.
Valencia moved into second place behind the Catalans after a 2-0 win at struggling Real Betis, striker David Villa taking his total for the season to 13 with a classy double.
Osasuna slipped to third after their 2-1 defeat at Villarreal, Juan Roman Riquelme scoring the home side's goals with two controversial penalties.
Champions Barca lead the standings on 49 points from 20 games, 10 ahead of Valencia and Osasuna.
Real Madrid are three points further back with 36 after claiming their second league win in a row with a 3-1 comeback victory over Cadiz at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
Missing leading striker Samuel Eto'o, who is on African Nations Cup duty with Cameroon, and suspended midfielder Deco, Barca were slow to find a rhythm against their lowly opponents.
Alaves, who have only won three matches all season, chased hard in midfield and strikers John Aloisi and Rodolfo Bodipo created early problems for Barcelona's back four.
Larsson eventually broke the deadlock two minutes into the second half when he bundled in from close range after a low pass slipped through keeper Franco Costanzo's grasp into his path.
They were given a chance to extend their lead 20 minutes later when Alaves defender Josu Sarriegi felled midfielder Andres Iniesta as he raced into the area but World Player of the Year Ronaldinho surprisingly sent his spot kick wide.
French midfielder Ludovic Giuly hit the woodwork twice in the second half before substitute Messi made sure of a 13th consecutive league win when he netted from three metres after Costanzo stopped a Ronaldinho shot with his foot.
The game of the night came, though, at Anoeta where Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao fought out a spectacular 3-3 draw in an action-packed Basque derby.
Sociedad's decision to persuade Nihat Kahveci to reject a move to Spartak Moscow and remain at the club until the end of the season appeared to pay dividends when the Turkish striker scored two great goals in the first half.
Athletic staged an impressive fightback after the break, with striker Aritz Aduriz providing the finishing touch to two superb moves to level the scores midway through the second half.
Sociedad's new Danish striker Morten Skoubo appeared to dash Athletic's hopes when he put the home side 3-2 up, but midfielder Andoni Iraola popped up at the far post in the depth's of injury time to level the game.
The result lifted Athletic a point clear of Alaves at the bottom of the standings, while Sociedad are now five points clear of the drop zone.
The most authoritative performance of the weekend came from Bernd Schuster's Getafe who crushed Espanyol 5-0 at the Coliseo, striker Daniel Guiza and left back Mariano Pernia scoring two goals apiece.
Pernia's second strike was a stunning 35-metre free kick that was still gathering speed when it fizzed into the net.