The La Liga title race remains as tight as ever after the top three sides in Spain picked up vital victories yesterday. Real Madrid were once again saved by Gareth Bale away to Real Sociedad while Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann came off the bench to score a crucial winner. Leaders Barcelona rallied in the second half away to Real Betis to secure a 2-0 win.
Real Sociedad 0-1 Real Madrid
Real were the first of the title contenders to play yesterday as they traveled to San Sebastian to take on Real Sociedad. La Real set up to harass Zinedine Zidane’s side in midfield and hit on the break but lacked cutting edge when presented with chances while Madrid, with Toni Kroos rested and Marcelo on the bench, found it tough going to maintain possession or gain sufficient numbers up front to mount a sustained siege against Eusebio’s side.The introduction of Jese lent the team an extra outlet and Real were able to capitalise on his pace against a flagging home side.However it was a Lucas Vazquez cross that saw Gareth Bale come to his side’s rescue late in the game to secure the three points and maintain pressure on Barcelona and Atletico at the top of La Liga.Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were absent for Madrid and are doubts ahead of their Champions League semi-final second leg at home to Man.City on Wednesday.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Rayo Vallecano
Atletico were next to kick off facing cross city foes Rayo Vallecano but they were made to work hard for the victory by a stubborn Rayo who are battling for their lives at the other end of the table.The hosts almost made the perfect start, though, courtesy of some terrible defending by Antonio Amaya in the fifth minute. The error was seized upon by Angel Correa, whose shot from the right-hand side of the penalty area looked destined for the far bottom corner of the net until Juan Carlos produced a brilliant save to touch the ball wide. Rayo actually had more efforts at goal than Simeone’s team but a lack of quality in the final third prevented them from capitalising. Adrian Embarba curled a shot wide from the edge of the area before warming Jan Oblak’s palms with another strike. In between Amaya headed the ball over the crossbar from a corner. Koke was introduced by Atleti at half-time but Rayo remained in the ascendancy during the early stages of the second half. Diego Simeone(watching from the stands) had seen enough and after 54 minutes he brought on Griezmann and Fernando Torres. It proved a master stroke as Griezmann immediately pounced on a loose ball, controlling it on his chest before hitting a left-foot shot into the bottom corner of the net from the edge of the box.
Real Betis 0-2 FC Barcelona
The pressure was on the defending champions come 7:30 when the Blaugrana got underway against Betis. Barca’s start was far from impressive against Betis, with the opening period almost played at walking pace.However Heiko Westermann’s sending off for two yellow card offences towards the end of the first half changed the momentum of the game, allowing the visiting side to spend the majority of the second half camped in the final third. The opening goal came courtesy of Rakitic after some horrific Betis defending failed to clear Lionel Messi’s lofted pass which fell to the Croatian who fired home. Despite being a man down Betis remained a danger going forward but the Catalans sealed all three points when Messi played a sublime ball into the path of Luis Suárez who timed his run to perfecting before dispatching the ball past Adan in the Betis goal. Barcelona were forced to make a strange substitution in the final minutes of the game with goalkeeper Claudio Bravo replaced by birthday boy Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. The Chilean shot stopper had sustained a calf injury and could miss next weekend’s Catalan derby at home to Espanyol.
FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid remain on top with 85 points however Barca will win the league on the head to head rule should they remain tied on points. Real are a point adrift of the leaders. Both Madrid clubs are once again in action this midweek with the Champions League semi-final second legs to be played. Barcelona will enjoy a week to prepare ahead of next weekends home game against Espanyol. Atletico Madrid will travel away to lowly Levante while Real Madrid host Valencia. All those games kick off at 4:00pm GMT next Sunday.
An ominous stat for any non-Barca fans – no team in the 21st century has lost La Liga have led heading into the final two rounds of fixtures.