La Liga Roundup Gameweek 26: Cracks Appearing at Barcelona

For the second time in a week, Real Madrid emerged victorious from El Clasico as the form of runaway leaders Barcelona continued to stutter. The Blaugrana’s lead over Atletico was reduced to 11 points as Los Colchoneros were held at Malaga, while Los Blancos are now just two points behind their city rivals.

Having already beaten Barca in the Copa del Rey in midweek, Jose Mourinho’s men repeated the trick in La Liga in far more convincing fashion than the scoreline suggests. Technical assistant Jordi Roura is overseeing the side in the absence of Tito Vilanova, who is continuing his recuperation from cancer surgery in New York, but Barca appear to be lacking leadership and have become predictable.

Karim Benzema put a significantly weakened Madrid ahead at the Bernabeu after just five minutes and, although Lionel Messi hit back quickly for full-strength Barca, the home side were on top throughout. Despite their dominance, Madrid had to wait until eight minutes from time for Sergio Ramos’ winner, while Barca keeper Victor Valdes received two yellow cards for dissent.

The Barca hierarchy will be grateful for the 11 point cushion separating them from Atletico, but must be concerned at their team’s inability to break down a Madrid side that saw many star names rested ahead of their Champions League clash with Manchester United. At the same time, Mourinho will be starting to believe his men can still pull off an unlikely title coup.

Meanwhile, Atletico and fourth-placed Malaga fought out a goalless draw at La Rosaleda, amidst mounting speculation that Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini could be destined for the Premier League. The Chilean, a former boss at the Bernabeu, has been linked with a move to either Chelsea or Manchester City in the summer.

Valencia remain fifth following their city derby with Levante at Mestalla. Vicente Iborra put the visitors ahead early on, only for Jonas to equalise for Los Che. The home side took the lead after the break through Roberto Soldado, but Jose Barkero salvaged a point for Juan Ignacio Martinez’ men, whose own European hopes appear to be fading fast.

There was high excitement at Anoeta, where Real Sociedad and Real Betis shared six goals. Betis took a 2-0 lead with goals from Jorge Molina and Dorlan Pabon, but Sociedad hit back with three goals in 12 second half minutes, courtesy of Carlos Vela, Inigo Martinez and a Xabi Prieto penalty. Pabon grabbed his second as both sides took a well-deserved point.

Sevilla striker Alfredo Negredo was the star at the Sanchez Pizjuan in the Monday night game as the home side hammered Celta Vigo 4-1.  Negredo struck twice in the first half hour and, although Augusto Fernandez pulled one back for Celta, Gary Medel restored Sevilla’s two-goal cushion. Negredo then completed his hat-trick to leave the northerners firmly entrenched in the relegation mire.

Basement side Deportivo gained a point in a goalless home draw with Rayo Vallecano but remain seven points from safety, while Mallorca improved their chances of recovery by winning 2-1 at Granada. Nolito gave El Grano an early lead, which was cancelled out by Alejandro Alfaro and a draw seemed inevitable until Tomer Hemed’s injury time winner gave the islanders some hope of avoiding the drop.

Elsewhere, Getafe stayed within touching distance of a Europa League place with a 2-0 win over Zaragoza. Adrian Colunga and Sergio Escudero were on target for the Madrid side. Athletic Bilbao beat Osasuna 1-0 in an all-Basque encounter in Pamplona, thanks to with a second-half strike from Markel Susaeta, and Espanyol played out a goalless draw with Real Valladolid.

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