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Magical Messi nears Mueller goals record

MADRID: Superstar Lionel Messi, having taken his 2012 goals tally to 80 in midweek, can close in on German great Gerd Mueller’s all-time record of 85 in a calendar year tomorrow.
The Argentinian had already surpassed Pele’s total of 75 goals in 1958 and a double at Spartak Moscow on Tuesday, when Barcelona secured their spot in the Champions League last 16, further boosted his hopes.
With his La Liga-leading side traveling to Levante tomorrow, Messi now has eight matches left before the Christmas break in which to break Mueller’s record of 85 goals in 1972.
Levante will be a difficult place to go for Barca as Real Madrid can vouch after scraping a late 2-1 win there two weekends ago.
A 2-0 win at Deportivo La Coruna last weekend saw Levante move into a Champions League position in fourth, and in Obafemi Martins they have pace that Barca will be wary of.
The Nigerian ex-Newcastle and Inter Milan striker has hit five goals in eight league games this season since his summer move from Rubin Kazan.
Second-placed Atletico Madrid entertain Sevilla just before Barca play, knowing that a win will pile pressure on Messi and his team mates.
There are three points between the two sides who have both made record-breaking starts to the season.
Barca have dropped only two points to date in the 2-2 draw with Real Madrid, while Atletico have let just five slip.
Meanwhile, chasing hard in third position, eight points behind Barca, are Real Madrid who go to Real Betis today on the back of five straight league wins and Champions League qualification achieved with Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Manchester City.
Betis will be keen to give a good performance after their derby disaster, while Madrid slowly recovers from an early season injury crisis.
Betis defender Chechu Dorado feels positive despite the Sevilla loss.
Madrid are almost back to full strength with only Marcelo remaining a long term casualty.
With a derby of their own against Atletico next weekend it is crucial that no more ground is lost on their city rival or Barca.
Rayo Vallecano v Mallorca (1500 GMT), Valladolid v Granada (1700 GMT), Malaga v Valencia (1900 GMT), Betis v Real Madrid (2100 GMT)
Sunday: Espanyol v Getafe (1100 GMT), Athletic Bilbao v Deportivo (1800 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Sevilla (1800 GMT), Levante v Barcelona (2000 GMT).

Monday: Zaragoza v Celta (2000 GMT).