Barcelona: Cesc Fabregas scored his first hat-trick to shine in place of the injured Lionel Messi, powering Barcelona to a 5-0 thrashing of Mallorca in La Liga on Saturday. The Catalan club's festive night got even better in the 70th minute when Eric Abidal went on for his first game with Barcelona since a liver transplant last year.
"Tonight is for Abi," said Fabregas. "Any other night would have been for me, but without a doubt this one is for Eric after all the difficult days he has been through." Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, went on as a substitute to seal Real Madrid's 5-1 victory over Levante as both powerhouses warmed up for their second leg Champions League quarter-finals.
Messi is trying to recover from a right hamstring injury for Paris Saint-Germain's visit on Wednesday with their leg poised at 2-2. But if he does not make it, Barcelona showed they have other scoring options in Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, who netted a double and set up Fabregas' first two goals.
Barcelona's lopsided win kept them 13 points clear of Madrid and on pace for their fourth title in five seasons. Madrid visit Galatasaray on Tuesday with a 3-0 advantage in their tie of Europe's final eight, while Malaga is at Borussia Dortmund after a 0-0 draw in their first leg.
Elsewhere, high-flying Real Sociedad romped to a 4-2 win over Malaga in San Sebastian, and Deportivo La Coruna provisionally escaped last place by beating visiting Real Zaragoza 3-2. Fabregas opened in the 20th from his "false nine" position working a superb one-two with Alexis to break down Mallorca's defense and nonchalantly roll the bar into the far corner of the net.
Alexis fired in a rebound of a shot by Fabregas two minutes later, and then wove another passing combination with Fabregas for the midfielder to slot under goalkeeper Dudu Aouate in the 37th.
Fabregas lobbed a pass for Alexis to toe in Barcelona's fourth goal in the 39th, and Andres Iniesta set up Fabregas to get his treble less than a minute into the second half.
Abidal's previous game with Barcelona's first team was on Feb. 26, 2012 before doctors determined he needed a transplant. After the game the 33-year-old defender revealed a T-shirt thanking his cousin who donated him a part of his liver.
"I'm happy to play again after a year, I was eager to come back," said Abidal. "As coach (Tito Vilanova) said, I needed to take my time and work my back without pressure."
Mallorca's stinging loss left it in last place with eight games to play. Levante started well enough, but Madrid had too much firepower to keep it at bay, and maintained its dominant form before heading to Turkey.
Levante's Miguel "Michel" Alfonso launched and polished off a counterattack to put the visitors ahead in the 31st. But Gonzalo Higuain's exquisite volley of Xabi Alonso's pass pulled Madrid level five minutes later, and Kaka grabbed the lead in the 39th with a spot kick after Christian Lell handled in the area.
Ronaldo went on at halftime, and Mesut Oezil and Angel Di Maria soon followed.
"The team was playing well but after the 1-0 anything could have happened," said Ronaldo. "(My teammates) responded well with two goals. Then I came on and contributed with a goal and an assist. We're all happy."
Levante coach Juan Ignacio Martinez also made three substitutions to refresh his attack, but the plan backfired as his defense finally crumbled under Madrid's pressure and turned a dignified loss into a humbling rout.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took the honorary kickoff at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Fourth-place Sociedad extended its league-best run to 20 straight games with only one loss, and increased the gap over Malaga to four points.
Carlos Vela opened for Sociedad with his 13th goal this season in the 21st. Left back Alberto de la Bella blasted in a long strike three minutes later, and Antoine Griezmann made it 3-0 in the 30th.
Pedro Morales scored for the visitors in the 43rd. Defender Inigo Martinez headed in Sociedad's fourth in the 51st, before Roque Santa Cruz struck for Malaga in the 70th.
Malaga said coach Manuel Pellegrini was heading to Chile after the match to attend the funeral of his father.
Deportivo's third straight victory left it just one point behind Zaragoza, which is clinging to safety after not winning a game so far in 2013.