Barcelona close in on title as Atletico Madrid crash out of race

Barcelona remain on track for the title while Atletico Madrid crashed out of the race during a dramatic penultimate round of games in La Liga yesterday afternoon.
Barcelona close in on title as Atletico Madrid crash out of race

With all 10 games kicking off simultaneously at 5pm local time, there was heaps of excitement at both ends of the Primera Division table.

Barca kicked off knowing that to win the title they needed to beat Espanyol at home and hope that Atletico lost at Levante and Madrid did not beat Valencia.

On Luis Enrique’s 46th birthday, his blaugrana side easily pulled off their part — beating their local rivals 5-0 — and were very, very close to wrapping up the Primera Division a week early.

Lionel Messi’s free kick put Barca ahead on just eight minutes, and after a scrappy first half they pulled clear following the break. Luis Suarez got two more to take him to 37 goals in La Liga this season, with substitute Rafinha and Neymar also on the scoresheet.

Since their surprise dip in form about a month ago, Barca have now scored 21 times without conceding even once as they have seen off Deportivo La Coruna, Sporting Gijon, Real Betis and now their cross-town neighbours.

Three more points took Luis Enrique’s side to 88 points — and although results elsewhere did not quite go all their way, Granada’s win at Sevilla means they will not need points when Barca visit next Saturday.

“We’re playing for La Liga in just one game,” Luis Enrique told his post-game news conference. “There will be tension. We are ready to suffer. The best is still to come.”

Atletico also seemed set for an easy win on just 82 seconds, when Fernando Torres clipped the ball confidently to the net. Given already relegated Levante had nothing left to play for, and Diego Simeone’s side had not previously conceded in over 450 minutes of domestic action, that seemed to be that.

But Atletico’s defence was opened up for centre-forward Victor Casadesus to bullet in a header for 1-1 at half-time. With Simeone’s men looking tired from their midweek Champions League exertions, Levante substitute Giuseppe Rossi coolly finished on the counter-attack for 2-1 late on to end their chances of winning this year’s La Liga title.

“We’re finishing up a fantastic season, and were just one week from competing with Barca and Madrid,” Simeone said afterwards. “We just lacked that little bit. It is painful, but also happy. I’m proud of what we have done.” Madrid likewise started their game well — with goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema [when offside] making it 2-0 by half-time.

Mid-table Valencia might have been forgiven for leaving it at that — but Rodrigo Moreno pulled one back soon after the break. Ronaldo made it 3-1, only for Los Che to keep pushing and Andre Gomes was soon given time 20 yards out to fire in for 2-3.

Even after Rodrigo was sent off for dissent, the visitors’ 10 men kept pressing for an equaliser. Madrid were frantically defending their penalty area during added time — when a goal for Valencia would have meant Barca were declared champions.

But the Bernabeu roared at full time in what was an 11th straight La Liga win for Zidane’s side. They now go to already safe Deportivo La Coruna next week knowing that if they win, and Barca do not, Los Blancos take the title.

“I’m always positive and now that we are second, there is one game left, and anything can happen,” Zidane said afterwards. “We must give our everything, and keep going until the end, to see what happens. The first thing is our own game — it will not be easy, and we all know that.”

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