Pep set to pass Michels landmark

MADRID - La Liga leaders Barcelona can take their unbeaten run to 28 matches if they can avoid defeat at home to Malaga on Sunday, passing the previous club record set by Rinus Michels 37 years ago.

The Dutch father of "Total Football" went 27 matches unbeaten in all competitions before losing 2-0 away to Atletico Madrid having already secured the 1974 league title.

He would no doubt have approved of Barca's display in matching his tally on Wednesday.

The champions crushed second division leaders Real Betis 5-0 in a King's Cup quarter-final first leg, shaking off spirited visitors with a style of football he introduced to the world and which has become the Catalan club's trademark.

Michels had one of the game's greatest players in Johan Cruyff at the heart of his Barca team, and Pep Guardiola has Lionel Messi.

The Argentine 23-year-old celebrated winning his second World Player of the Year award with a devastating hat-trick to lead his team to victory. He has now scored 28 goals in 25 appearances this season.

"He played a great game and I have to congratulate him," Guardiola, who was shortlisted for the 2010 Coach of the Year award, told reporters.

"Once again, he has scored three goals and has played very well. All I am concerned with is that he is happy and that he stays that way."

NEW RECRUITS

Barca top La Liga with 49 points from 18 matches, two ahead of arch-rivals Real Madrid, who visit struggling Almeria on Sunday, and 32 points above 16th-placed Malaga.

The south-coast side were bought by a member of the Qatar royal family in June and have been the most active club in La Liga in the January transfer window, with five new recruits on board so far.

They have landed Argentine defender Martin Demichelis and Brazilian midfielder Julio Baptista, who both played at the World Cup finals last year, as well as goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo and midfielders Enzo Maresca and Ignacio Camacho.

Real head off to Almeria looking to give the returning Kaka more minutes as he rebuilds his match fitness after five months on the sidelines.

The Brazilian playmaker's return will help cover for the loss of Gonzalo Higuain, who will miss most of the rest of the season after having surgery on a back problem on Tuesday.

Almeria are only kept off the foot of the standings by a superior goal difference from Real Zaragoza after three consecutive league defeats.

One of the weekend's most interesting games between two sides with European aspirations for next season sees improving Sevilla host fifth-placed Espanyol on Saturday.


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