Athletico Madrid and Real Madrid played out a thrilling 2-2 draw on Sunday, to ensure that the title race is still very much a 3 horse race, separated between just 3 points.
It took Real only 3 minutes to get going and put Athletico under instant pressure, as Karim Benzema converted an Angel Di Maria from close range at the far post to silence the home crowd.
Athletico had turned the game on its head by half-time though. Good movement from Koke and good vision from Arda Turan saw the two combine for the equalizer, and just before the break, a 30-yard wonder strike from Gabi, which no doubt changed Carlo Ancelotti’s half-time team talk.
Despite their second half efforts, Madrid found themselves unable to break through a resilient Athletico side until the 82nd minute, when Ronaldo found the net from close range for a share of the spoils.
This meant that Barcelona needed a win to keep up the pressure. And come the full-time whistle there was no doubt they had done what was required of them.
Almeria keeper Andres Suarez parried Cesc Fabregas’ shot in the 9th minute, and Alexis Sanchez was on hand to pounce on the rebound to give Barca an early lead. And before the half hour mark it was 2-0, as Lionel Messi added another goal to his season’s tally from a 25-yard perfectly executed free-kick.
Messi must have still been celebrating when Almeria pulled a goal back. Just 3 minutes later, Trujillo found himself in space to nod in from a corner to send a few nerves bouncing around the Camp Nou at the break.
These nerves wouldn’t disappear until the last 10 minutes of the game. A valiant effort from Almeria would inevitably cave when Puyol found the net in the 83rd minute. And once one goal had gone in, another followed, with Xavi’s 22-yard strike nestling in the back of the net for a 4-1 win, and all 3 points. Almeria sit dangerously above the relegation zone in 17th place on 26 points, just 3 points ahead of their nearest rival Real Valladolid in 18th.
Valladolid themselves picked up a welcome point away at Malaga, to stunt an attempted get-away run up the table. The 1-1 draw maintains a 3 point gap between the two sides, and keeps Valladolid in reachable distance if results were to go Valladolid’s way next week.
Rock bottom Real Betis also secured a valuable point this week. A stubborn effort away at a very under par Villarreal team, who would end the game with 10 men following Uche’s dismissal, feeds a ever distant glimmer of hope to a side who look at this stage, destined for the drop.
Betis wouldn’t have taken kindly to an impressive home display by Rayo Vallecano though, who caused an upset this week by overturning Valencia in a 1-0 victory. Their win makes the most of Almeria’s away loss to Barcelona, and puts Rayo within a win of potential safety.
Friday 28th Feb
Athletic Bilbao 4-0 Granada
(Aritz Aduriz 7, 18, 74.pen, Carlos Gurpegi 80)
Saturday 1st Feb
Málaga 1-1 Real Valladolid
(Santa Cruz 13, Larsson 30)
Levante 2-0 Osasuna
(Diop 4, Garcia Santos 42, Casadesus Castano so.60)
Getafe 0-0 Espanyol
Celta de Vigo
(Gil de Pareja Vicent 84)
Sunday 2nd Feb
Villarreal 1 – 1 Real Betis
(Soriano Llido 71.pen, Uche so.80, Castro 85)
Athletico 2-2 Real Madrid
(Koke 28, Gabi 45+1, Benzema 3, Ronaldo 82)
Barcelona 4-1 Almeria
(Sanchez 9, Messi 24, Puyol 83, Xavi 89, Trujillo 27)
(Larrivey 61, Barragan so.76)