Messi and Balotelli spot on

Story highlights

  • Sunday's 1-1 draw with Valencia leaves Barcelona nine points clear in Spain
  • Lionel Messi equalizes in the 39th minute with a penalty for his 34th league goal
  • Mario Balotelli scores twice on his debut for AC Milan in 2-1 win at home to Udinese
  • Former Manchester City striker scores controversial winning penalty in time added on
Lionel Messi scored for the 12th successive Spanish league match on Sunday to prevent Barcelona falling to a second defeat this season, while Mario Balotelli made the headlines on his return to Italy.
Barca's 1-1 draw at Valencia meant the club's La Liga lead was trimmed to nine points by Atletico Madrid, who later beat Real Betis 1-0, but it moved the Catalans 16 points clear of third-placed Real Madrid.
Stand-in Barca boss Jordi Roura was satisfied with the result following the midweek draw against Real in the first leg of the Spanish Cup semifinal.
"We're coming off of a very tough match away to Madrid and that, from a physical standpoint, always wears you down," said the assistant to coach Tito Vilanova, who was absent due to his ongoing cancer treatment.
"Valencia pressure you a lot and they don't let you play. Their intensity made it difficult for us to play our game and it was hard for us to get close to their area."
Messi leveled with a penalty six minutes before halftime after Valencia's goalscorer Evar Banega fouled Pedro. It was the four-time world player of the year's 34th league goal in 22 games.
Banega had put sixth-placed Valencia ahead in the 33rd minute after a failed clearance by Gerard Pique.
Roura paid tribute to goalkeeper Victor Valdes, who has been in fine form despite announcing he will not be extending his contract at the Camp Nou -- in particular denying Roberto Soldado a goal at the end.
"He's the best keeper for us. This Sunday he showed that he's at a fantastic level and he denied Valencia the winning goal. While he's with us, he'll help us," Roura said.
Barca could also have snatched a victory, but David Villa missed a golden opportunity to mark his 100th first-team appearance after coming on as a substitute.
Fourth-placed Malaga spurned the chance to close the gap on Real after drawing 1-1 with Real Zaragoza, but Betis stayed a point behind in fifth after Diego Costa's 61st-minute winner for Atletico.
In Italy, Juventus moved three points clear at the top of Serie A with a 2-1 win at Chievo but the big story of the day was Balotelli's controversial debut for AC Milan.
The former Manchester City striker put his side 1-0 up with a left-foot volley after 25 minutes against Udinese, who leveled through Giampiero Pinzi.
However, Balotelli had the final say with a trademark penalty in the fourth minute of time added on after Stephan El Shaarawy went down under what looked like a fair tackle from Thomas Heurtaux.
It lifted Milan to fourth in the table on goal difference above city rivals Internazionale.
Balotelli's former club crashed to a 3-1 defeat at Siera, while third-placed Lazio lost 3-2 at Genoa.
In Germany, two-time defending champions Borussia Dortmund moved above Bayer Leverkusen into second place after winning their clash 3-2.
Dortmund led 2-0 in side 10 minutes but the home side leveled with two goals in four second-half minutes from midfielder Stefan Reinartz before Poland striker Robert Lewandowski struck the winner from close range just 60 seconds later.
Dortmund could afford to miss a penalty by Poland midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski, who had scored in the first half, but trail Bayern Munich by 12 points with 14 games to play.
Seventh-placed Borussia Monchengladbach's European hopes suffered a blow with a 2-1 defeat by fifth-from-bottom Nuremberg.