Four-goal spree by Eto'o seals return to favour

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The Independent Football

Certain things that happened in Spanish football this summer will never be properly explained. How did a coach as dour and antagonistic as Luis Aragones get Spain playing such spirited attacking football? Why did Real Madrid take so long to realise they they were not getting Cristiano Ronaldo? Why when they realised, did they then sell Robinho? And why did Barcelona want to sell – and no-one else want to buy – Samuel Eto'o?

The outspoken goal machine, who has been guaranteeing a goal every other game and at least one verbal outburst a season since he signed for Barça in 2004 was hawked around Europe with coach Pep Guardiola admitting: "He is not in my plans."

Internazionale coach Jose Mourinho twitched, Tottenham bluffed, and Real Madrid folded, but no-one put their money on the table. Now Eto'o, with 13 goals from 10 games, is Europe's top-scorer. Two weeks ago he scored the fastest hat-trick in Barcelona's history in 34 minutes and on Saturday he went one better racking up four before the break as Barça beat visitors Valladolid 6-0.

On 12 minutes he buried a Dani Alves cross and on the half hour he swept in a rebound after Thierry Henry's shot had been saved. He then made it three after a superb Lionel Messi assist and four from a failed clearance from Pedro Lopez.

Had Sergio Asenjo, the 19-year-old Valladolid goalkeeper Manchester United are monitoring, not saved Eto'o's other first-half shot on goal at point-blank range, it would have been five.

Eidur Gudjohnsen got the fifth with a clever lob and Henry walloped the sixth into an empty net after being set-up by Alexander Hleb. It was Barcelona's eighth straight league victory and although they are only two points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, the Madrid press admitted yesterday that they are currently playing a "different sport" to their rivals.

Madrid, in contrast, had to scrap their way to a dramatic 4-3 home win over Malaga although they did have their own four-goal hero in the shape of Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain.

Three times the visitors went ahead and three times Higuain replied, finally having the last word by firing in the winner in the 77th minute becoming only the 11th player in the club's history to hit four in one match.

Under-fire Real Madrid manager Bernd Schuster had dropped the club's sacred cow Raul to the bench, while Higuain dedicated his goals to Ruud van Nistelrooy whose recent knee injury could sideline him for two months.