Real Madrid were the major beneficiaries from the weekend’s La Liga action, narrowing the gap behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid to three points after their slender win at Espanyol and the top two’s goalless draw at the Vicente Calderon.
Barcelona remain top of La Liga on goal difference after their top-of-the-table clash with Atletico Madrid failed to live up to the hype and finished goalless. Tata Martino opted for an attacking trio of Pedro Rodriguez, Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, with Lionel Messi and Neymar starting on the bench, while Diego Simeone was able to field a full-strength team.
The two sides cancelled each other out for most of the game, with Barca dominating possession and Atleti content to soak up the pressure and play a counter-attacking game. When Messi and Neymar did emerge in the second half, neither could change the game and chances were at a premium. Messi forced a rare save from Thibaut Courtois while Atletico’s best chances fell to Diego Costa and Arda Turan, but neither tested Victor Valdes.
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Real Madrid closed to within three points of leaders Barca and Atleti with a 1-0 victory over Espanyol at Cornella-El Prat. Defender Pepe headed the only goal of the game at the start of the second half as Madrid gained their eighth win in nine games since their last league loss, the 2-1 Clasico defeat in October. The margin should have been greater, with Cristiano Ronaldo – his mind on the Ballon d’Or, perhaps – guilty of spurning a hat-trick of openings, twice firing wide and seeing a third chance superbly saved by Kiko Casilla.
Athletic Bilbao tightened their grip on fourth place with a resounding 6-1 victory over Almeria at San Mames. Midfielder Mikel Rico opened the scoring after just six minutes and Ander Herrera doubled the lead four minutes later. Aymeric Laporte made it 3-0 just after the half-hour mark, but Helder Barbosa gave Francisco Javier Rodriguez’s side faint hope by scoring before half-time. A fourth from Aritz Aduriz put the Basques further ahead and a double from substitute Ibai Gomez completed the rout.