La Liga wrap: Barça’s Lionel Messi can’t prevent Madrid Clásico win
La Liga wrap: Lionel Messi scored in his 16th consecutive game but couldn't prevent Barca losing to Madrid. Tom Wellman reports
Madrid pile pressure onto Barça after second Clásico win
Following the wonderful performance at the Nou Camp on Tuesday, when Real Madrid produced a stellar display to ease past Barcelona and into the Copa del Rey final, Jose Mourinho’s side showed just enough to come out victorious for the second time in five days on Saturday. Although of arguably less importance with Madrid seemingly out of the title race, the 2-1 win at the Bernabeu could reignite a squad troubled by reports of disharmony and squabbling and put some extra pressure on a stuttering Barcelona. Although a 13-point gap separates the two sides, Barcelona have struggled without manager Tito Vilanova, who is in America receiving treatment for cancer. Their form has dipped and performances have waned in all competitions but their early season form should see them secure the title regardless of a Madrid onslaught, even though the team in the ascendancy is now Madrid.
16 and counting – Messi continues hot streak
Despite Barcelona’s standard of play slipping of late, Lionel Messi continued his fabulous scoring streak in La Liga, nettingr in his 16th consecutive game in Madrid on Saturday. Messi equalised after Karim Benzema had given Real an early lead and allowed Barcelona to play keep-ball for much of the game. This tactic was dangerous and failed to pay off as Sergio Ramos struck a late goal to give Madrid the victory. Barcelona’s defensive approach against a weakened Madrid side, preparing for their Champions League game in midweek, failed to pay dividends as Messi was relied upon once again to outscore the opposition. Last season we saw Messi, under Pep Guardiola’s tenure, take the bulk of the pressure for scoring while David Villa was injured, and it looks as though he could do with a strike partner once in a while. However, the defence should also take some of the blame; it is now eight games since their last clean sheet.
Defences shine as Atletico and Málaga share stalemate
Willy Caballero and Thibaut Courtois have been the most impressive shot stoppers in La Liga this season, with a combined 23 clean sheet between them. So it was no surprise that this game ended in a scoreless draw with both defences keen to extend their tidy records. Martín Demichelis’s header was about as close as anyone came to scoring as the battle between second and fourth place ended in a disappointing way. Atletico could have really closed the gap on Barcelona after their defeat on Saturday but the draw means they trail the league leaders by 11 points with 12 games to play. The El Clásico result also means that Real Madrid are now within two points of Diego Simeone’s team – could their resistance be coming to an end?
Late Mallorca winner may be catalyst to survival
Gregorio Manzano finally won his first game in charge of Mallorca as his relegation threatened newbies struck a last-gasp winner to claim their first win of 2013 against Granada. Tomer Hemed, who if you remember began the season in stunning form as Mallorca sat second in the early stages, headed home Giovani Dos Santos’s 94th-minute cross to seal a vital 2-1 win away to fellow strugglers Granada. Nolito had given the hosts the lead before Alejandro Alfaro levelled, and it looked as though Mallorca would collect another draw, before they finally showed some character and won the game. Manzano, now in his third spell with the Islanders, will need more of this if Mallorca are to avoid the drop as they’ve not really shown the competitiveness their fans would prefer. They remain four points from safety but now with a huge spring in their step.
Betis and Sociedad duel for Europe in thrilling draw
If the Atletico-Málaga game was a damp squib then the tie between two teams chasing European football for the first time since promotion was a real treat. Betis began in seventh and just outside the Europa League qualification positions, while Real Sociedad sat proudly in sixth, hoping to leap towards fourth in a congested top half. It was Betis who began stronger as Jorge Molina put the away side 1-0 up at half-time before Dorlan Pabón doubled their lead within four minutes of the restart. Sociedad fought back and scored three quick strikes to turn the complexion of the game around. Carlos Vela, Iñigo Martínez and a Panenka penalty from Xabier Prieto gave Sociedad a 3-2 lead as they looked to extend their unbeaten run to eight games. However Betis came back quickly as Pabon cancelled Sociedad’s celebrations with a goal just four minutes after Prieto’s spot kick. The game finished 3-3, a fair result, but both buoyed by the likelihood of an extra Europa League spot thanks to Atletico getting to the Copa del Rey final in midweek.