BARCELONA, Dec 23: Lionel Messi broke Pele�s all-time scoring milestone for their clubs by netting his 644th career goal for Barcelona, while Atletico Madrid beat Real Sociedad 2-0 to increase its lead in the Spanish league. Messi, who helped Barcelona win 3-0 at Valladolid, had equalled Pele�s all-time scoring tally on Saturday. His 643rd career goal for Barcelona since his 2004 debut matched Pele�s tally for Santos from 1957-74.
In a meeting between the front-runner and the sensation of the league this season, Atletico put on another dominant performance to show why it is the early title favourite.
Diego Simeone�s team took full advantage of its best scoring opportunities and its defence remained airtight from start to finish. Mario Hermoso headed in a free kick by Yannick Carrasco to put the visitors at San Sebastian ahead four minutes after halftime. Marcos Llorente put the result beyond doubt in the 74th with a powerful strike from the edge of the area.
Atletico moved three points clear of second-placed Real Madrid. Sociedad was left in third place at six points adrift. The Basque Country club had led the league earlier this season but has now gone six rounds without a victory.
Barcelona stayed in fifth place, eight points behind Atletico.
Atletico has one more game to play than both Madrid and Barcelona and three more games to play than Sociedad.
Messi scored his team�s final goal at Valladolid as Barcelona excelled in an experimental lineup by coach Ronald Koeman. Koeman has tried several different lineups since he took over Barcelona last summer with the mission to fix a team that had hit rock bottom in a historic 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich.
After seeing his side not win away from home in four games, Koeman opted for his most profound makeover at Valladolid. He deployed a defence of three centre backs and kept Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho � the club�s star signings in recent seasons � and midfield leader Sergio Busquets on the bench.
That left Martin Braithwaite alone to spear the attack behind two playmakers in Messi and 18-year-old Pedro �Pedri� Gonzalez. The scheme also allowed Sergio Dest to attack deeper on the right flank. Messi lobbed a pass forward for Clement Lenglet to head in for the 21st-minute opener. Messi then played the ball wide to Dest, who squared it low for Braithwaite to tap home in the 35th.
The connection between Pedri and Messi clicked throughout, but it shone in the 65th when the teenager set up the veteran.
After receiving the ball near the edge of the area, Pedri assisted Messi by deftly rolling his boot over the ball to push it behind him to meet the Argentine�s run. The slick pass left Messi clear to finally beat goalie Jordi Masip, who had denied twice. Messi also hit the post in stoppage time.
Atletico was without Joao Felix due to a throat infection. It made up for the absence of its most dynamic forward by applying a suffocating defence to nullify Sociedad�s normally fluid attack.
Sociedad had David Silva back after he recovered from a muscle injury that had sidelined him for three consecutive matches.
Silva�s return was not enough, however, to break through the visitors� defensive block that left Jan Oblak with very little work. The Slovenian goalkeeper didn�t have to make a save until the 83rd when he stretched to parry a free kick by Martin Merquelanz.
Oblak has conceded only five goals in 13 league games.
Hermoso had struggled to break into Atletico�s starting 11 last season, but he has earned a spot on the left side of the three-man defence Simeone has used at times this campaign. The goal was his second of the season.
After Hermoso�s opener, Atletico pushed for a second goal with Carrasco twice threatening with his crosses from the left flank. Another attack down the left led to Luis Suarez receiving the ball deep in the box. His pass intended for Carrasco was deflected by a defender into the path of Llorente, who blasted it home. � AP