The race for the top spot in the Primera Division of the La Liga continued to remain hot with wins for Real Madrid (2-1 vs Athletic Bilbao), Barcelona (4-2 vs Valencia) and Atletico Madrid (3-1 vs Sevilla). The top four, qualification for Champions League, thus has Real Madrid on 65 points, Barcelona on 63 points, Sevilla on 57 and Atletico Madrid on 55 points (Los Blancos have a game in hand). Here’s a look back at the action-packed games, summed up in ten points:
1. From once being nine points behind Sevilla and Atletico Madrid have bridged the gap to just two. One of the main reasons for that is the drop in form for Jorge Sampaoli’s men. The 1-1 draw with Alaves, 1-1 with Leganes at home, Champions League 0-2 loss to Leicester City and now the loss against Diego Simeone’s men have hurt the earlier high-flying Sevilla, and Rojiblancos have cashed in.
2. Speaking of Atletico’s surge, Antoine Griezmann has been a major contributor to that and he was once again all over the weekend. He missed a chance in the first half but made amends with an inch perfect free kick in the second. A left footed strike found the roof of the net – clearly unstoppable. Barring penalties, Luis Suarez is the only player who has scored more goals this year than Griezmann.
3. Barcelona’s topsy-turvy victory saw six goals but could have been much more had Suarez or Neymar been more clinical. There was a brace from Lionel Messi, equaliser from Suarez and then a cherry-on-top by former Valencia man Andre Gomes. At the other end, Eliaquim Mangala scored the opener against the run of play and then was sent off for a second yellow-card offense when he tugged Suarez back.
4. With goals by former players in Munir El Haddadi for Valencia and Andre Gomes for Barcelona, the whole no-celebrations-after-scoring-against-former-club thing continued and continued to make no sense. Munir chose to acknowledge the crowd after the equaliser for 2-2 in the first half, Gomes just hugged his teammates. Meanwhile, there were a few jeers for Gomes which had Gerard Pique defending him later saying, “The whistling of Andre Gomes is intolerable. Those who come to whistle should stay at home.”
5. At the top of the pyramid, Real Madrid inflicted just the second defeat on Athletic Bilbao at Nueva San Mames. While Cristiano Ronaldo’s duck at the new stadium continued, he did turn the provider for Karim Benzema and then Casemiro. Real Madrid led with the Frenchman until Aritz Aduriz headed the ball in from close range past Keylor Navas.
6. Navas once again saw a goal put past him with the last time he saw a clean sheet was against Real Sociedad at the end of January. This time one can’t blame him for the goal – unlike last week’s howler by the Costa Rican that allowed Real Betis’ Antonio Sanabria to score. However, there were moments of lapses by Navas or miscommunication between the keeper and the defence which nearly produced a goal.
7. At the other end of the table, Osasuna’s abysmal run continued and they are most definitely headed for the Segunda after a 2-0 loss to Betis. They’ve got 11 points from 28 games played and have now conceded the most goals in the top five leagues. The table gives a grim reflection of things at Pamplona: one game won, eight draws and a staggering 19 losses. From winning promotion a season back to most likely head back is definitely going to hurt a club. The forgettable numbers might stick too – of lowest points from a season held by Sporting Gijon (13 points in 1997-98). For the record, Sporting are in the doldrums too – they’re 18th after a 3-1 win over fellow-relegation strugglers Granada at home. This saw Granada slip to 19th with 19 points while Sporting have two more.
8. Europa League places could be shared between two or three teams if Barcelona win the Copa del Rey (vs Alaves). Villarreal, Real Sociedad and Athletic occupy the fifth, sixth and seventh places respectively with 48, 48 and 44 points to their name. Next challengers in Eibar are safely seven points adrift. Things would get mighty interesting if the European jackpot has to be picked between two teams.
9. Leganes, in 17th, played out their third home clean sheet in a row with a 0-0 draw against Malaga. They now have 26 points as against the 27 for Malaga. It looks unlikely that they’d get sucked in to the relegation mess with Deportivo La Coruna possible contenders but one can never rule things out with ten matches to go into the season.
10. Now to end with a brilliant statistic: Barcelona have become the first team in 46 years to go 28 games without conceding a penalty or receiving a red card in the league. The last time it happened was in the 1970-71 season.
RESULTS: Las Palmas 1-0 Villarreal, Eibar 1-1 Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Real Madrid, Alaves 1-0 Real Sociedad, Real Betis 2-0 Osasuna, Leganes 0-0 Malaga, Atletico Madrid 3-1 Sevilla, Deportivo La Coruna 0-1 Celta Vigo, Sporting Gijon 3-1 Granada, Barcelona 4-2 Valencia.