Barcelona kept up pace with Real Madrid going in to the short international break, a 4-2 victory over Valencia in the last match on Sunday keeping them two points behind the leaders having played one game more. The locals had the better chances early on, Diego alves havig to save from Luis Suárez, Orellana clearing off the line from Messi, and Messi curling another shot just over the top. However Ter Stegen had to keep out Carlos Soler and Munir, and with just under half an hour gone Mangala gave the visitors the lead with a header from Dani Parejo’s corner. Soon afterwards though Luis Suárez made it all square after latching on to a Neymar throw-in, and with half time approaching Mangala was sent off for pulling back Súarez in the area, Messi converting the resulting penalty kick. A minute later Munir levelled it again on a breakaway straight from the kick-off, but some seven minutes in to the second half Messi got his second of the night after picking up a pass from Mascherano. Iniesta, Rafinha and Messi all came up against Alves after that, and Neymar fired a free kick against the woodwork, but with a minute to go André Gomes got on the end of Neymar’s cross to score his first goal for the club, the ex Valencia midfielder (like Munir earlier on) not celebrating the goal out of respect for his old side.
Barcelona are now six points clear of third placed Sevilla after Sampaoli’s team lost 3-1 at the side immediately below them in the table, Atlético Madrid. Simeone lost Vrsaljko to a serious injury with only a minute gone, but Gameiro hit the bar soon afterwards, and with eight minutes to go to the break Godín got free of his markers to head in a Griezmann free kick. Sarabia went close for the visitors a couple of times either side of half time, but with an hour on the clock Griezmann made it two with another free kick which went in off the crossbar. A quarter of an hour later Koke added a third after Juanfran set him up, and Sergio Rico had to save a couple of times from substitute Fernando Torres before Joaquín Correa got a late consolation for the Andalusians. The defeat though leaves them just two points clear of their hosts in the rankings, with the head-to-head goal difference against them.
Later in the day Sporting Gijón came from a goal down to beat relegation rivals Granada 3-1, the result taking them two points above their opponents in the table. Only a series of saves by Ochoa from Babín, Víctor Rodríguez and Burgui prevented the locals from going ahead before the break, but some six minutes in to the second half Ingason got on the end of Pereira’s centre to give the Andalusians the lead. Soon afterwards however Traoré made it all square on a quick counter-attack, and in the next seven minutes Babín and Carmona added two more. It could have been even worse for the visitors had Ochoa not saved a Traoré penalty after Ingason brought down Burgui in the area, but Rubi’s side had already done enough for a vital win which also gives them head-to-head advantage against their opponents.
Sporting are now five points below seventeenth placed Leganés, who drew 0-0 against Málaga in the mid-day kick-off. The Madrid based side started the match a point below their rivals in the table, and Mantovani and Tito both wasted chances to put them in front before the interval. Málaga’s only real reply was a long effort by Sandro over the top soon after the restart, and Diego Rico brought a good save out of Kameni, and then fired in a cross from the left which rattled against the post. In the end though the visitors could have snaeked a win had Herrerín not produced the save of the day from a late Camacho header.
Málaga are now level with Deportivo, who lost 0-1 to arch-rivals Celta in the latest Galician derby. If anything the visitors had the better of a dour first half, Lux saving a soft header from Cabral and Wass shooting wide, but the locals had the chance to take the lead when Roncaglia gifted the ball to Borges in the first minute of the second half, Sergio Alvarez saving the day in the end. Juanfran, Carles Gil and Alex Bergantiños tried their luck with long efforts, but in the end it was Iago Aspas who made the difference, the Spanish international striker turning in Beauvue’s cross to give his team three points which takes them back up to eleventh spot. (19.03.17)
Leaders Real Madrid were the only team in the top four to play on Saturday, and they opened up a five point gap over second placed Barcelona after a 1-2 victory at Athletic Bilbao. The visitors had the better of the early minutes, Ronaldo having a strike ruled out for a borderline offside before testing Kepa, and midway through the first half the Portuguese forward crossed in for Benzema to open the scoring. A few minutes later Bale brought another good save out of the local keeper, but soon after the restart Keylor Navas had to keep out Williams, and soon afterwards Aduríz levelled the scores after Raúl García headed back a cross from Williams. Just three minutes after that however Madrid were back in the lead, an unmarked Casemiro turning a shot past Kepa after Ronaldo headed on a Kroos corner, and Benzema and Williams both had efforts thwarted by the respective keepers later on.
Athletic are still only four points below sixth placed Real Sociedad though after Eusebio’s side lost 1-0 at neighbours Alavés later in the evening. The visiting coach was missing several key players due to injuries and suspensions, and he included youngster Jon Guridi in his starting line-up for the first time. Yuri brought an early save out of Pacheco though, but Rulli had to be at his best to keep out Deyverson and Camarasa, and with three minutes to go to the break Deyverson got on the end of a Theo Hernández cross to put the locals in front. After the restart the Brazilian striker came close to scoring again, Rulli saving a first header and a second coming back off the post, and midway through the second half Real were left with ten men when Granero was shown a second yellow card for diving in the area. The win takes Alavés on to 40 points, and having already achieved their main objective of staying up for another season, they now have their eyes set on Europe.
Eibar and Espanyol are also still in the running for the European spots, but they are now respectively seven and eight points below the top six after drawing 1-1 in the lunchtime game. Kike García headed the opener for the Basque side from Pedro León’s cross in the twentieth minute, and later in the first half David López blocked a shot from Dani García. Gerard Moreno headed a corner just wide though on the stroke of half time, and five minutes after the restart Jurado got on the end of Moreno’s centre to volley the equalizer past Yoel. Diego López had to save from Kike García and Bebé later on in the second half, but in the end both teams settled for a point.
Further down the table Betis moved twelve points clear of the drop zone after a 2-0 win over Osasuna. A dreadful mistake by the visiting defence allowed Rafa Navarro to run on to Mandi’s through ball and poke a shot past Sirigu in the fourth minute, and although Kodro hit the bar at the other end, Rubén Castro took advantage of more slack defending to make it two with just under half an hour gone. After the interval Sirigu had to save from Castro and Pardo, and Adán responded keeping out Roberto Torres, Sergio León and Riera, but it was yet another defeat for the Pamplona based side, who are now even further adrift at the foot of the table. (18.03.17)
Las Palmas virtually ensured their place in the top flight for another season after a 1-0 victory over Villarreal on Friday night. Boateng headed the only goal from a Dani Castellano cross early on, and the visitors were left with ten men soon afterwards when Víctor Ruíz was sent off for bringing down Boateng as he advanced on goal. Andrés had to save from a Lemos free kick and another effort from Boateng before the break, and after the restart Lizoain kept out Roberto Soriano and Manu Trigueros at the other end. Another home win for the Canary Islanders though, and the defeat leaves Fran Escribá’s side still four points below fourth placed Atlético pending their game on Sunday. (17.03.17)