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Pedro double hands rusty Barca five-point advantage

PEDRO scored twice as Barcelona beat promoted Levante 2-1 at the Nou Camp last night to move five points clear at the top of La Liga.

The Spanish champions now have 46 points from 17 matches -- five clear of Real Madrid who've played one game less.

Barca were without the injured Carles Puyol, suspended Gerard Pique and rested Lionel Messi, and they looked rusty after the league's two-week winter break.

The hosts struggled to open up Levante's massed defence until the 47th minute when Pedro kept his composure in a crowded penalty area to score.

The second came 12 minutes later, Dani Alves breaking down the right and crossing for Spanish international Pedro to sweep in his eighth league goal of the campaign.

The crossbar denied Pedro his hat-trick and Cristian Stuani pulled one back for Levante with a superb volley 10 minutes from time. Spain midfielder Xavi made his 549th appearance for Barcelona, equalling the club record set by Migueli.

The 30-year-old was joined by Migueli in the centre circle before kick-off, and returned there after the final whistle to take the applause of the home fans.

Xavi joined the Catalan club aged 11 in 1991 and, after progressing through the youth ranks, he made his first-team debut under Louis van Gaal against Real Mallorca in the 1998 Spanish Super Cup.

In yesterday's other games, Deportivo Coruna were 2-1 winners at Athletic Bilbao and Malaga dragged themselves out of the bottom three with a 2-1 victory at Sporting Gijon.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, will be hoping to close the gap when they play local rivals Getafe at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez tonight.

Jose Mourinho has included Kaka in his squad for the first time this season.

The Brazilian ace hasn't played since he underwent surgery on his left knee on August 5. On the down side, striker Gonzalo Higuain will have to undergo surgery on the back injury which has kept him out for the past month.

Irish Independent