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La Liga: Spain’s title race is alive…just

Real Madrid’s double slip sees Messi-inspired Barcelona close the gap and raise the question: “Hay liga?”

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The rest of the season suddenly looks more appealing for Leo Messi and Xavi Hernández. Photo: FC Barcelona

This week saw Barcelona claw open the door to the Liga title, which had seemingly been slammed shut by José Mourinho’s men over a month ago. Following back-to-back draws for the leaders, who dropped points against Málaga at home and Villarreal away, it was mini-crisis time at Real Madrid as the gulf that was a 10-point lead at the top of the table was cut to six, ahead of what could be a decisive game at the Camp Nou next month.

Pep Guardiola continues to toe the diplomatic line, insisting the six points are still too much to make up. But even he must be overjoyed that news has turned from talk of a possible Pasillo at the home of the Catalans, to whether or not Madrid will crumble under the pressure of keeping the reigning Spanish and European champions at bay long enough to secure their first league title in four years.

The draw at El Madrigal in midweek certainly saw Madrid losing their composure. The aftermath of the 82nd minute equaliser by the home side saw Los Merengues reduced to nine men following the sending off of both Sergio Ramos – shown the 11th red card of his La Liga career, setting an unfortunate new club record which was previously held by Fernando Hierro – and Mesut Özil.

Not to be outdone, José Mourinho also saw red, as did his assistant, Rui Faria, and Pepe was given a two-match suspension for insulting the referee after the game, accusing him of committing daylight robbery, amongst other choice words. They were not so vocal a short time later as no one from the club attended the post-match press conference, no players spoke to the media and the self-imposed silence continued over the weekend.

The joy was palpable in Cataluña, with Barcelona-based dailies revelling in the thought of Madrid’s lead being overhauled and with this in mind, the Blaugrana travelled to Mallorca on Saturday.

Lionel Messi, who broke Barcelona’s all-time scoring record on Wednesday, was at it again netting his 55th goal of the season from a poorly defended free-kick.

The visitors didn’t have it all their way however, as Thiago Alcântara was sent off for a second booking early in the second half, but Gerard Piqué volleyed in Messi’s rebound off the post in the 79th minute to take all three points and seal Barcelona’s seventh consecutive league win.

The pressure now firmly on Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo once again took up the mantle, scoring a brace against Real Sociedad at home and setting his own record, becoming the fastest player to reach 100 goals in the Spanish league  – needing just 92 games to score 101. The achievement, which had been held since the 1960s, had belonged to another Madrid legend, Ferenc Puskás whose own record read 100 goals in 105 matches.

Gonzalo Higuaín opened the scoring in the sixth minute, Ronaldo added a second just after the half hour and Benzema made it 3-0 five minutes before halftime.

Sociedad pulled back a consolation goal a minute later when Xabi Prieto’s long-range effort flew into the top corner having taken a deflection off the head of Ramos, before Benzema and Ronaldo made it 5-1 with goals early in the second period.

The six-point lead at the top has been temporarily restored, but with another Clasico looming, the league leaders’ margin of error has been reduced. Madrid know they cannot afford another slip, making for an exciting finale to a race which was deemed all but over weeks ago.

Elsewhere, a 2-0 win at the Ciutat de València moved Osasuna to within a point of fourth-placed Levante as they look to secure a chance of playing European football next season.

Raúl García put the visitors ahead with a fabulous finish from Nino’s flick-on in the first half while the hosts missed a flurry of chances. Taking advantage of the home side’s wastefulness, García and Nino combined yet again with 11 minutes remaining for the latter to score this time.

At the bottom of the table, a struggling Real Zaragoza boosted their survival hopes with victory over Atlético Madrid as Apoño scored a penalty deep into stoppage time to secure three vital points in their bid to avoid relegation.

The game seemed destined for a draw until Diego Godín’s tackle on Hélder Postiga gave Apoño the chance to win it in the 93rd minute. The midfielder duly obliged, smashing the ball past Thibaut Courtois.

RESULTS:

Real Betis 1 – 1 Racing Santander

Rayo Vallecano 0 – 2 Villarreal CF

Athletic Bilbao 1 – 1 Sporting Gijón

RCD Espanyol 1 – 2 Málaga CF

Levante UD 0 – 2 Osasuna

Real Zaragoza 1 – 0 Atlético Madrid

Real Madrid 5 – 1 Real Sociedad

RCD Mallorca 0 – 2 FC Barcelona





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Published: Mar 26 2012
Category: Spain News, Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=5798
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