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La Liga: Barca’s 31-game unbeaten run ties longest in club history

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FA CUP: Man United advance, drawn against PL opposition in QF ]

Eibar 0-2 Barcelona

Barcelona, the last remaining unbeaten side from Europe’s five major domestic leagues, warmed up for Tuesday’s Champions League round-of-16 clash with Chelsea by dismantling seventh-place Eibar side away from home on Saturday and extending their unbeaten run to 31 games in the league, tying the club’s all-time record in the process.

The Blaugrana took the lead after 15 minutes, when Lionel Messi slotted an inch-perfect through ball for Luis Suarez who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home (WATCH HERE) for his 17th league goal of the season (20 in all competitions).

Messi played his part in Barca’s second goal, which came three minutes before full-time. The Argentine’s shot was initially saved, but Jordi Alba arrived on the scene moments later to clean up and finish off the 10-man Basque minnows.

The victory sends Barca 10 points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid, who play on Sunday, and 20 points clear of fourth-place Real Madrid, who have played two fewer games thus far.

Malaga 1-2 Valencia

Valencia, who spent the majority of the season’s first half as Barca’s nearest title rivals (while never really challenging), fell to third when they recently lost three straight league games, but have since regained their footing with back-to-back wins, including Saturday’s come-from-behind triumph away to last-place Malaga.

Brown Ideye put Malaga ahead just before the half-hour mark, a lead which remained intact for more than 50 minutes. Alas, Francis Coquelin bagged his first goal for Valencia in the 80th minute to draw level, followed by a penalty kick converted by Dani Parejo five minutes later.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 1-2 Sevilla
Alaves 1-0 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Sociedad vs. Levante — 6 a.m. ET
Atletico Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao — 10:15 a.m. ET
Espanyol vs. Villarreal — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Real Madrid — 2:45 p.m. ET

Watch: Messi picks out Alba with perfect pass

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Like Rey and Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba are having some sort of force connection on Thursday.

The pair teamed up for three goals – two for Messi and one for Alba in the opening 28 minutes of the match as Barcelona stormed out to an early 3-0 lead (5-1 on aggregate) in the Copa Del Rey against Celta Vigo.

On the first two goals, Alba crossed from the left and found Messi in space inside the box, where he was able to finish with aplomb. But on the second goal, Messi plays what Ray Hudson would call a “magisterial” pass, through the entire defense onto the foot of Alba, who slotted it home.

Yes, Messi had no pressure on him and no one caught the run of Alba down the left wing. But the ball was placed on a dime, perfectly through the entire Celta Vigo team but still far enough away that goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez couldn’t ready it.

Watch, and be ready for your mouth to drop.

Alba saves Barcelona in 1-1 draw with Valencia

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Jordi Alba’s late goal helped Barcelona salvage a 1-1 draw with second-place Valencia, but frustration is the overriding feeling at the final whistle as the La Liga leaders were held to a point at Mestalla Stadium.

Lionel Messi had a clear goal not given in the first half that would have given Barcelona the lead, but Neto scooped the ball out and the referee did not signal the goal. It left Barcelona with nothing to show for a dominant first half, and Valencia made the appropriate adjustments.

Right on the hour mark, the home side took the lead through Rodrigo who tapped in a cross by José Gayá. The 22-year-old winger took a feed from Goncalo Guedes that beat Nelson Semedo, and Gaya cut into the box along the end line before feeding Rodrigo right on the crowded doorstep.

With Barcelona suddenly finding itself on the wrong end of the 1-0 scoreline, Messi was there to help save the day in the 84th minute. The Barcelona star chipped a fabulous ball over the defense to Alba bursting towards the left post, and he volleyed the ball into the back of the net with blistering pace.

The draw leaves Barcelona four points above Valencia at the top of the table, with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid both eight points behind in third and fourth.

Spain 5-0 Costa Rica: Silva, Morata star in thrashing of Ticos

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After disastrous showings at back-to-back major tournaments — group-stage elimination at the 2014 World Cup, followed by a round-of-16 exit at EURO 2016 (disastrous by their lofty standards) — Spain appear in perfect position to make a deep run at the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Shaqiri promises “nice party” in Switzerland “when we qualify” ]

Having qualified directly into next summer’s tournament in Russia on the back of nine wins (and a draw) during their 10-game qualifying campaign, Saturday saw La Furia Roja take on another already-qualified side, rising CONCACAF power Costa Rica, and reiterate to everyone the gulf in class between Europe’s giants and hopefuls from elsewhere.

The final score — 5-0 to the home side — extended Spain’s current unbeaten run to 15 games (their last defeat came at EURO 2016), and was still perhaps flattering for Los Ticos, as it could have easily been 7-0, or 8-0, or worse.

[ MORE: WCQ — Ireland, Denmark all square ahead of decisive second leg ]

1. Jordi Alba smashes a left-footed shot past backup goalkeeper Dany Carvajal (Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas wasn’t called into this camp), the 7th international goal of his career.

2. Alvaro Morata pounces after Carvajal spills the ball inside his own six-yard box — his 13th goal for Spain.

3. David Silva slams home his first of two goals after one Costa Rican defender clears the ball off another.

4. Silva goes it alone this time — he wins the ball back, races into the penalty area and fires past Carvajal.

5. Andres Iniesta carries the ball, unimpeded, 40 yards through the heart of midfield. He fires from nearly 25 yards out and makes it 5-0.

The following is anything but solely based upon Saturday’s result: It’s officially safe to put Spain into the conversation of favorites — alongside the likes of Germany, Brazil and France — ahead of next summer.

VIDEO: Messi’s brilliant passes set up both goals as Barcelona win Copa del Rey

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Has any club in the history of soccer ever been disappointed to see their season conclude with a domestic double, winning both that season’s league title and national cup competition?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

The answer is, probably not, but that’s the unfortunate reality for the 2015-16 edition of Barcelona, who on Sunday knocked off Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final to go along with this season’s La Liga title. Unfortunately for Luis Enrique’s side, they’re the odd Spanish club out in next Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, and that’ll remain the overriding shortcoming for so many this season.

Barca fans will have to settle for seeing their side rewrite a bit of 63-year-old history, instead…

[ MORE: All-Spanish, all-Madrid Champions League final ]

Naturally, Lionel Messi — the alien that he is — left his fingerprints all over Saturday’s victory in the capital city (below video). First, there was his long ball over the top for Jordi Alba, who scored what turned out to the be the game-winning goal in the first half of extra time, followed by a simple, yet clever through ball to Neymar for the exclamation point in extra-time stoppage time.

Final season stats (all competitions) — Messi: 41 goals, 23 assist | Luis Suarez: 59 goals, 22 assists | Neymar: 30 goals, 20 assists. For the non-math majors among us, that’s 130 goals and 75 assists between what will go down as arguably the greatest attacking trio of all time.

If only we could all “fail” so successfully as Barcelona have done…