La Liga title rivals Barcelona, Atletico and Real Madrid all win
All three teams gained three winning points to add to their tally as the title race gets closer and closer
La Liga leaders Barcelona moved closer to retaining their crown with a lackluster 2-0 away win over 10-man Real Betis thanks to goals from Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez on Saturday.
Atletico Madrid kept pace as substitute Antoine Griezmann fired them to a 1-0 home win over struggling Rayo Vallecano, while Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale scored in a 1-0 victory at Real Sociedad that leaves them still a point behind.
Barcelona remain at the summit on 85 points, level with Atletico but having a superior head-to-head record, while Real are third with 84 points and two games of the season left.
Betis had center-back Heiko Westermann sent off in the 35th minute for a second booking and Ivan Rakitic pounced on a defensive mishap to put Barca five minutes after the break.
Luis Suarez then scored his 35th goal of the La Liga season to finish Betis off in the 81st, meaning Barca can guarantee a 24th league title with wins at home to Espanyol and away to Granada.
Barcelona struggled to break down Betis even after Westermann was dismissed but a misunderstanding between defender German Pezzella and goalkeeper Antonio Adan allowed Rakitic to tap in from close range and break the deadlock.
Suarez then made up for missing a clear chance earlier in the second half by finishing off Lionel Messi’s low pass from inside the area.
Barca manager Luis Enrique reacted angrily to suggestions his team had underperformed against Betis.
“What’s the problem, if you don’t win 8-0 does it not count?” he told a news conference.”
“This is a very competitive league with three teams fighting for the title. Looking at the results I don’t think any of the three teams are going to slip up and it’s in our own hands.”
Bale, who scored twice as Madrid came from two goals down to win 3-2 at Rayo Vallecano last weekend, again delivered when it mattered, nodding in Lucas Vazquez’s cross in the 80th minute.
It was the Welshman’s ninth headed goal in the league this season, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues, and earned Madrid the points despite a frustrating afternoon against the side who beat Barcelona earlier this month.
With Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema injured, it was again up to Bale to lead the line, with coach Zinedine Zidane making five changes after the 0-0 at Manchester City in the Champions League semi-final in midweek.
Bale missed several chances before finally breaking the deadlock with 10 minutes remaining, leaping at the near post to glance Vazquez’s cross into the top corner for his 19th goal of the league campaign.
With top scorers Ronaldo and Benzema facing a race against time to be fit for Wednesday’s second leg against City, Zidane was pleased Bale delivered again.
“It was great to see a player of his importance score a goal ahead of Wednesday,” Zidane told a news conference.
“We had to suffer and that’s what the players did. We were up against a difficult opponent but I’m happy with the work we did and to pick up the points.”
Atletico coach Diego Simeone made seven changes to the team that beat Bayern Munich 1-0 on Wednesday to edge closer to the Champions League final, with only keeper Jan Oblak, Jose Gimenez, Gabi and Juanfran keeping their places.
Simeone was serving the first of a three-game touchline ban and watched his side struggle to break down Rayo.
The hosts created only one clear chance before the break, a low shot from Angel Correa that was superbly tipped away by Rayo goalkeeper Juan Carlos.
Atletico’s top scorer Griezmann was brought on along with Fernando Torres in the 54th minute and needed less than 60 seconds to have an impact.
The France striker pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the area and, with his next touch, smashed it high into the net past Juan Carlos, his first goal in five games in all competitions.
Torres squandered a chance to seal the win and Rayo nearly punished Atletico, who were relieved to see striker Javi Guerra head over the bar after appearing unmarked in the box.