Atletico Madrid lost their outright lead at the top of La Liga, their defeat at Almeria providing the story of the weekend. With Barcelona and Real Madrid both winning against Sevilla and Villarreal respectively, the top three are all level on 57 points, Barca having the advantage of a superior goal difference.
Barcelona returned to winning ways with a 4-1 win at rain-soaked Sevilla. The Catalans made a bad start when Alberto Moreno latched on to a pass from Ivan Rakitic to beat Marc Bartra and Victor Valdes to give the Andalusians a 15th minute lead. Alexis Sanchez levelled on 34 minutes, though his goal from Lionel Messi’s free kick had more than a suspicion of offside about it. Sevilla continued to press their opponents and spurned several chances to restore their lead.
Messi then put Barca in front just before half-time, as torrential rain threatened to halt the proceedings, with his first goal in La Liga since September. The rain abated after the restart, but a sodden pitch failed to prevent both sides playing some attractive passing football. The Argentine added to his tally on 56 minutes and Barca were cruising as substitute Cesc Fabregas chipped over Beto for Barca’s fourth with just a few minutes remaining.
Here are the highlights from all of the goals in this gameweek:
Leaders Atletico Madrid suffered a shock 2-0 defeat at Almeria as coach Diego Simeone made a number of changes following the midweek Copa del Rey loss to Real Madrid and was crucially without injured goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Atleti struggled throughout, failing to trouble Esteban Suarez in the Almeria goal and, as their frustrations became apparent, Almeria grew in confidence. A dull game sprang to life as Aleix Vidal struck a shot which hit both posts before bouncing clear.
Moments later the home fans were celebrating a stunning goal from Jose Antonio Verza who curled the ball into the top corner leaving stand-in keeper Daniel Aranzubia stranded. It immediately got worse for Atleti as Aranzubia failed to take a routine back pass cleanly, brought down Jonathan Zongo in the process and received a straight red card for his error. With all three substitutes used, midfielder Gabi went between the posts but Verza lashed his penalty high into the net, sealing the win to take Almeria up to 15th, four points clear of the relegation zone.
Real Madrid beat Villarreal 4-2 to maintain their title challenge. Carlo Ancelotti was without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, but the front three of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Jese Rodriguez were all on target as Madrid had too much for their opponents in an exciting encounter. Sidelined since January with a calf injury, Bale made an instant impact on his return, opening the scoring after six minutes after defender Chechu Dorado hesitated on the ball and Bale stole in to lift it over goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo.
It was 2-0 when Bale crossed to find Benzema but Madrid were jolted when Mario cut their lead just before half-time. Jese restored the two-goal cushion on the hour but Giovani Dos Santos again narrowed the gap for Villarreal with a sublime left-footed curling free-kick from 22 yards. Benzema grabbed his second and Madrid’s fourth, drilled home a low first-time shot from Jese’s pass to ensure victory for Los Blancos.