When La Liga Loca wrote repeatedly that the title would swing in Atlético Madrid’s direction this weekend due to Barcelona dropping points away at Real Betis, it was only being post-ironic, of course.
As Karim Benzema would claim over his off-the-field legal issues, everything is open to interpretation. The blog never held a single doubt for a single second that all three teams would plough through their respective matches but still prevail, with just four goals scored and none conceded.
Top three wade through the mud
“Winning but suffering” was the vibe from Sunday’s edition of AS after all three title-chasing teams won in less than barn-busting fashion. Barcelona made hard work of Real Betis, before two brilliant assists from Leo Messi guided the leaders to three points.
Betis keeper Antonio Adán, who had previously claimed he was looking forward to stuffing up Barca’s title-pretensions, found out that karma can be a right old so-and-so when gifting the opener to the visitors after charging out of his goal with the same sense of urgency as pursuing the lead-free family dog into the road.
Real Madrid slogged away up in San Sebastian against Real Sociedad, before Gareth Bale knocked in his ninth headed goal of the season to keep the forces of Mordor in the title chase.
And it was a good thing too considering both Marca and AS had been pointing out that Madrid’s domestic chances lay on the strapping shoulders of the Welshman. And the Welshman doth deliver to have Tomás Roncero in AS going all royalist with the declaration of ‘God save Bale’.
For once, Diego Simeone fell off the wagon of treating each match as if it were a final with the fate of the world at stake, making a hatful of changes to the starting line-up. However, it was a familiar figure in Antoine Griezmann who came off the bench in the second half to score just 42 seconds later to give the Rojiblancos their fourth 1-0 win in a row in all competitions. The strike enforced the remarkable statistic that a quarter of Atlético Madrid’s goals in the Primera have been scored by substitutes.
Simeone was critical of a flat performance from his players, complaining that transitions were not quick enough.
The downer potentially came from Simeone sitting in the stands serving out game one of a three-match suspension and in no way whatsoever being in contact with anyone on the bench.
Certainly not through an intermediary sitting next to the Argentine and then Gabi, who just happened to be playing the substitute role sporting earbuds. As that would be quite naughty...
Victorious Villarreal sail into Champions League
A win earlier on Sunday for Athletic Bilbao against Celta had suddenly made Villarreal’s previously impervious perch in fourth place a little precarious. Especially as a trip to face Valencia in a derby was on the cards, just a few days after a fairly exhausting clash against Liverpool and another one to come on Thursday.
But there was no messing about for Villarreal who grabbed the three points at Mestalla to secure fourth spot from Athletic, who sit six points behind and have an inferior head-to-head record. “We’ve had an extraordinary season,” beamed little Marcelino.
Pericos dodge relegation as bottom sides rebel
Another side that had found themselves in mortal peril were Espanyol, after a run of just the single victory from seven had left the Pericos in danger of being sucked into the relegation fight if results went the wrong way. Well, they did, to leave Espanyol needing to beat Sevilla to avoid a very unpleasant week.
Form went as form does for Espanyol with Sevilla failing to win away from home in La Liga yet again, an issue that has haunted the team all year, leaving Espanyol looking all but safe on 40 points, five ahead of the drop zone.
Those places are currently occupied by Levante at the bottom followed by three teams on 35 points, Rayo, Getafe and Sporting, the latter two winning their respective weekend games, as did Granada, one point above who came from 2-0 behind to overcome Las Palmas in a result that might ultimately save their skins.
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