Real Madrid were under more pressure than ever heading into this weekend, with both Sevilla and Barcelona having taken the top position in the league table at different points on Sunday after Los Merengues fell to defeat at Mestalla in midweek. Things didn’t go to plan in Castellon either as Villarreal raced to a 2-0 lead through goals from Manu Trigueros and Cedric Bakambu. However, from that moment on it all went wrong for the Yellow Submarine, with goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo suffering a fourth career cruciate ligament injury before Gareth Bale pulled one back and a controversial penalty allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to draw the scores back level only for Alvaro Morata to score a crucial late winner.
The big game of the weekend on paper came back in Madrid, where Atletico Madrid welcomed Barcelona to the Vicente Calderon for the final time as their opposition in a La Liga fixture. The game was far from a spectacle in terms of quality but Lionel Messi scored the decisive goal after Diego Godin equalised to cancel out Rafinha’s opener. Neymar was subject to most of the plaudits, but Luis Enrique will be relieved to see his side keep the pressure on Zinedine Zidane and co. at the top of La Liga.
For Diego Simeone though, the pressure is growing as his side now sit just one point ahead of in-form Real Sociedad after their narrow, and perhaps undeserved, victory over Las Palmas who have now been beaten in their last four fixtures. Captain Xabi Prieto’s second-half strike made the difference for Eusebio’s side to keep up their remarkable form.
Eibar and Athletic Bilbao too kept up their hopes of European qualification with a 3-0 win over Malaga for the minnows and a 3-1 victory against Granada for the biggest club in the Basque Country, coming not long after former Arsenal hero Tony Adams was given an advisory role by Granada’s new Chinese owners at the club.
Espanyol too could launch a late surge for European competition next season after their 3-0 thrashing of Osasuna with the visitors seeming increasingly consigned to relegation, not that their cause was helped by some poor refereeing to award a penalty and send off defender Oier.
One side who are almost certain to return to the Champions League are Sevilla, who faced a passionate Seville derby only days before the day of Andalucia. The away side, led by Jorge Sampaoli, could not bring any away fans to the fixture due to stadium works and the lack of support showed in a woeful first half in which Rize Durmisi gave Real Betis the lead as they pressed Sevilla high. Vicente Iborra sparked a second-half turnaround, following up from Gabriel Mercado’s equaliser.
That defeat, however harsh it may have been, sends Betis closer to the relegation zone with just seven points separating them from the bottom three. They were aided though by Leganes, who shocked all by scoring four against Deportivo A Coruna, representing a fifth of the goals they have scored all season, in a humiliation of the Galician side. The aftermath led to the sacking of head coach Gaizka Garitano to be replaced by ex-West Brom boss Pepe Mel.
Sporting Gijon kept the pressure on Mel in his new role as they secured a crucial point against Celta Vigo after their midweek travels to Ukraine in the Europa League, though they did have to call upon Iago Aspas to claw them back from behind after Moi Gomez gave the struggling side the lead in the first half.
Here are this weekend’s results in full:
Las Palmas 0-1 Real Sociedad
Deportivo Alaves 2-1 Valencia
Real Betis 1-2 Sevilla
Leganés 4-0 Deportivo A Coruña
Eibar 3-0 Malaga
Espanyol 3-0 Osasuna
Atlético Madrid 1-2 Barcelona
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Granada
Sporting Gijón 1-1 Celta Vigo
Villarreal 2-3 Real Madrid
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