MADRID (AFP) - Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi scored in a ninth successive La Liga game as Barcelona won 3-1 at Malaga on Sunday to remain 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid and 18 in front of champions Real Madrid.
Messi got the opener before supplying Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara for the second and third goals.
Messi's Argentine compatriot Diego Buonanotte scored from a free-kick in the final minutes for Malaga.
The goal was Messi's 28th in the league this season from just 19 games and at the halfway stage Barcelona have only dropped two points - in a draw against Real.
Willy Caballero in the Malaga goal was determined to show why his side have the best defensive record in La Liga this season and he somehow robbed the ball from Messi's foot when it seemed the Argentinian would dance round him to open the scoring on seven minutes.
He was alert again to block at the feet of Pedro Rodriguez but he could do nothing when Messi intercepted a poor back pass from Ignacio Camacho on 27 minutes and cut back to avoid the advancing keeper, before sliding the ball home for the opener.
The home side, who started the day in fourth spot, were struggling to create chances and it wasn't until a Roque Santa Cruz glancing header on 37 minutes that Victor Valdes was first called into action in the Barca goal.
Fabregas doubled the lead five minutes into the second period when Messi found the former Arsenal captain with a perfectly weighted chip on the left hand side of the area.
He still had a lot to do but with a simple left foot control and right footed shot he slid the ball past Caballero.
Substitute Thiago wrapped things up with a left-footed drive after exchanging passes with the Argentinian with eight minutes to play before Buonanotte's consolation.
Atletico Madrid made it 10 wins out of 10 at home this season with a 2-0 victory over Zaragoza.
Portuguese midfielder Tiago Cardoso got a header and Radamel Falcao hit a penalty for the win that means Atletico stretch their lead over city rivals Real Madrid in third place to seven points.
Real could only draw 0-0 at Osasuna on Saturday.
Atletico controlled the game from start to finish and their early pressure finally paid off on 31 minutes when Tiago powerfully headed home a Gabi corner at the near post to break the deadlock.
The lead was doubled six minutes later when Falcao blasted home from the penalty spot after Arda Turan's surging run was halted by Zaragoza's Romanian full-back Cristian Sapanaru.
That makes it 18 league goals for the season for the Colombian.
Betis moved above Malaga into fourth position and a Champions League berth with a 2-0 win at home to Levante.
Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell, on-loan from Arsenal, hit the first on seven minutes before Ruben Castro wrapped up the win on 63 minutes with a clever turn and drive for his 11th league goal of the season.
Ten man Deportivo La Coruna, who had Evaldo dismissed with almost 30 minutes remaining, held on for an important 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad that keeps the Galician side a point ahead of Osasuna at the bottom of the table.
They went ahead with a Pizzi goal midway through the first period but Carlos Vela equalised for Sociedad with a well hit, curled shot just before the break.