Guardiola praises Barca performance

MADRID - Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola praised his players for their "aggressive" performance on Saturday after the champions became only the second side to win at Real Mallorca in 14 La Liga matches there this season.

Apart from a defeat by Sevilla, Mallorca had won 12 of 13 games at the Ono Estadi but Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted for a 1-0 win that sent Barca three points clear of Real Madrid at the top ahead of Real's match at home to city rivals Atletico on Sunday.

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"We were ourselves again and we won at one of the most fiendishly difficult stadiums of this season," Guardiola told a news conference.

"We were aggressive, very intense, and if we hadn't been we wouldn't have been able to win," he added. "Hopefully, the team will take note that this is the right path."

Barca have 74 points from 29 matches and Real will reclaim the lead on goal difference with a win in the Madrid derby.

With neither of the top two showing any sign of slipping up, the "Clasico" between arch rivals Real and Barca at the Bernabeu in two weeks is shaping up as a potential title decider.

It took 63 minutes to break Mallorca's resistance but Guardiola defended his decision to start with Argentina forward and La Liga top scorer Lionel Messi on the bench.

Messi replaced Andres Iniesta, who limped off with a suspected hamstring problem in the 51st minute, but was unable to add to his 25 league goals of the campaign.

"It's never good that Messi has to be rested but the other day he was very tired after the match," said Guardiola, referring to the 2-0 win at home to Osasuna on Wednesday.

"Messi is more than fundamental but we need the help of a lot of other players," he added.

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