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BC-SOC--Spain-Weekend Watch

March 4, 2019
AP Sports Writer

MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi looked more relaxed than ever as he drove with his family on the roads that lead to the Pyrenees.

Apparently headed to his refuge in the region of La Cerdanya, by the French border in northern Catalonia, Messi listened to music by famous Catalan artist Joan Manuel Serrat.

The slow-paced song blasting from his car’s radio on Sunday morning talked about a kid who can’t stop playing with a soccer ball.

It was Messi’s wife, Antonela Roccuzzo, who appeared to film the video “stories” posted on the player’s Instagram account a day after he helped Barcelona hand another hard blow to Real Madrid.

Messi was taking a well-deserved break after he and his teammates defeated Real Madrid for the second time in a week at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Saturday’s 1-0 victory capped a difficult stretch of matches that Barcelona overcame in style, advancing to the Copa del Rey final for the sixth straight year and remaining in full control of the Spanish league.

“These victories, coming in consecutive matches at the Bernabeu, give a huge boost to the team’s morale,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “They give us some security.”

Barcelona had already beaten Madrid 3-0 at the Bernabeu on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey semifinals, and before that it routed Sevilla 4-2 in a league match, with a hat trick by Messi. The difficult stretch also included a match at Lyon in the Champions League, a 0-0 result that kept Barcelona in reach of the quarterfinals.

Having kept the team alive in all three competitions, regular starters were given a few of days off ahead of what promises to be a much calmer week for the defending Spanish champions.

Barcelona faces Girona in the Catalonia Super Cup on Wednesday — when only second-stringers are expected to play — then has a home game against relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano in the league on Saturday. Rayo, promoted this season, hasn’t won in five matches and is second-to-last in the 20-team standings.

Barcelona has seven-point lead over Atletico Madrid, and is 12 points ahead of third-place Madrid with 12 games left.

Madrid, meanwhile, can’t afford to have any time off, with a match against Ajax coming up on Tuesday in the second leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League.

Under pressure after the consecutive home losses to Barcelona, Madrid will play at the Bernabeu again to defend a 2-1 win in the first leg in the Netherlands.

“We have another game that is like a final for us and we have to keep working hard to try to win matches,” said Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, who won’t play on Tuesday because of a suspension.

Barcelona’s second leg against Lyon is next Wednesday at the Camp Nou. After that, it has another series of difficult league games, including the Catalan derby against Espanyol and a decisive meeting with Atletico Madrid.

Players will have time to worry about that later, though. Now, it’s time to appreciate their well-deserved break.

“The week couldn’t have gone any better,” Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said, “we have to enjoy it.”

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