La Liga wrap: Sánchez helps below-par Barça struggle past Levante
La Liga wrap: Barcelona struggled past Levante as substitute Alexis Sánchez helped secure a narrow 1-0 victory. Tom Wellman reports
Priorities set ahead of Munich semi-final as Barça struggle past Levante
Barcelona fielded a weakened side against Levante ahead of their Champions League tie against Bayern Munich but the fringe players struggled for long periods against Juan Ignacio Martínez’s side. David Villa was culpable for missing a number of chances, including a penalty in the second half, as the league leaders struggled to break down their resolute visitors. Sensing the team might not even score at home for the first time in over a year, Tito Vilanova sent on Alexis Sánchez for Cristian Tello and the Chilean winger sparked Barcelona into life with 15 minutes to go. Sánchez’s pace, freshness and direction invigorated Barcelona an the South American has clearly benefitted from his recent run in the side, setting up Cesc Fàbregas to score the winner on 83 minutes. Munich is an important test but the league title is within touching distance now.
Madrid prepare for Dortmund but injuries against Betis dent Mourinho’s plans
Real Madrid opted to field an under-strength side too as they prepared for their tie with Borussia Dortmund, but unlike Barcelona, they had no such problems beating Betis at home. Jose Mourinho gave starts to Nacho, Raul Albiol, Jose Callejón and a debut to on loan Brazilian midfielder Casemiro but was left frustrated that two players suffered injuries in the 3-1 win. Marcelo and Luka Modrić both picked up muscular injuries which could keep them out of the first leg, a blow to Mourinho’s strategy. Los Blancos did however have enough to take care of a well organised Betis side as two goals from Mesut Ozil and one from Karim Benzema made sure they kept themselves ahead of Atletico Madrid ahead of the derby next weekend.
Four goals in 300 seconds prove Valencia’s Champions League credentials
Having looked shaky for long periods of the season, Valencia are showing signs of old as they gave a masterful performance against Malaga on Saturday. Four goals were scored in the space of five minutes in a devastating spell of attacking guile and accuracy, with the home side eventually ran out 5-1 winners in front of their joyous fans. Daniel Parejo began the scoring after 25 minutes before Roberto Soldado grabbed a brace. Just 11 seconds after the restart, Sergio Canales made it four, finishing an incredible spell of free-flowing attacking play. Shortly after half-time, chief orchestrator Éver Banega made it five following a Julio Baptista consolation for a beleaguered Málaga. Valencia’s win moves them up to fifth and just two points behind Real Sociedad with the game between the two sides coming at the end of the month looking as if it will be the decider for that fourth spot.
Llorente returns to form but Bilbao have to settle for a point
Fernando Llorente’s impact at Athletic Bilbao has been disappointing this season but his performance against Deportivo showed signs that he is returning to form. For so long Bilbao’s frontman has been ignored and infrequently used but took the rare opportunity of a starting place on Sunday to tear in-form Deportivo apart, scoring one and hitting the bar in the 1-1 draw. Llorente dominated the game and showed fans what they had missed and were going to miss once his transfer to Juventus is fully completed in the summer. The Spanish striker headed home an equaliser for Bilbao following Bruno Gama’s wonderful opener as the relegation-threatened hosts looked to make it five wins in a row but were outplayed by Marcelo Bielsa’s side. Bilbao would have continued their dominance and probably won the game but for Ander Iturraspe’s red card, so had to settle for a point which doesn’t guarantee their safety yet, but if Llorente builds on this display then Bilbao will have no worries.