La Liga round-up: advantage Barcelona as Messi inspires win
It was a tale of Barcelona against Madrid as clubs from the two cities squared off in different games. Barcelona’s dream run continued as they easily defeated challengers Atlético Madrid, while Catalonia’s other team Espanyol held Real Madrid to a draw.
The Camp Nou welcomed a top of the table clash as chasing Atlético Madrid were received by a Barcelona side still unbeaten in La Liga. With the dangerous Falcao up front, Los Colchoneros hoped to cut the deficit to a manageable three points as well as prove their status as serious contenders for the title.
And it started brightly for Diego Simeone’s side, with the Colombian number nine hitting Victor Valdés’ post in the 9th minute before finally opening the score in the 31st minute, beating Busquets before dinking the ball over the onrushing Barcelona goalkeeper.
The Camp Nou was stunned but its favourite team reacted quickly and decisively before the break. Adriano equalised within four minutes of Falcao’s opener before Busquets profited from hesitancies from a corner to put the ball beyond Thibault Courtois on the stroke of half-time.
With Barça holding on to a slender lead, record-breaking Lionel Messi decided to take matters into his own hands. Once again the small Argentine made sure of the win by scoring two goals to bring his tally to 90 for the year 2012. Despite a brave performance, Atlético were undone by Messi’s magic and now find themselves nine points behind Barcelona in the title race.
Even further behind are Madrid’s other club, José Mourinho’s Real. Without the injured Benzema and Higuain, and with Di Maria dropped due to poor form, the Special One’s team was forced to deploy Cristiano Ronaldo in less familiar central striker role, with Modric drafted in to play down the left hand side.
Despite difficulties in taking control of the game, the Madrid club looked to be heading for a confidence-boosting victory with only two minutes left in normal time. But Albin stepped up for Espanyol and ensured that Khedira and Coentrao’s goals were in vain as Espanyol grabbed a draw which will have helped their neighbours more than anyone else.
Mourinho was visibly unhappy and hinted in post-match interviews that Real had lost hope of winning the title again. These are unhappy times at Real Madrid, especially with persistent rumours that the Portuguese manager is barely holding on to his job, with president Florentino Pérez’s patience reportedly running out.
While the battle for the title certainly seems to be in Barcelona’s favour, the fight for a Champions League spot still continues. Betis and Málaga both recorded impressive wins away and are now only separated by their head-to-head record, with Pellegrini’s club currently holding fourth spot. Cash-strapped Levante are only a point behind after Garcia Santos’s goal helped them to a win away at Zaragoza.
Getafe did put a positive spin to Madrid clubs’ week-end by drawing against a struggling Osasuna and staying within touching distance of fourth place. Now seventh, with only four points the difference with Málaga, the relatively disregarded Madrilène club is enjoying a positive start to the season, perhaps fuelled by reported interest from richest man in the world Carlos Slim.
But Barcelona is for now the capital of Spanish football. And, with a 13 point advantage opening up on their traditional rivals, and despite an impressive showing by Atlético Madrid, Barcelona’s grip on the title seems to be tightening as Messi continues his incredible scoring run.
Baptiste Reynaud, Football correspondent