Carlo Ancellotti’s Real Madrid have come to the top of Spanish La Liga table after beating Elche as both FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid suffered shock defeats in their respective away games.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men took their time to tame an unexpectedly plucky Elche side at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, but ran out 3-0 winners in the end. However, Barcelona lost 3-1 at Real Sociedad on Saturday and Atletico went down 3-0 away to Osasuna on Sunday to leave Ancelotti’s side sitting on top of the table.
There is a long way to go for the title, of course, and each of the three teams has their destiny in their own hands because Atletico host Madrid in an all-important clash next weekend in La Liga, with Real to welcome Barca to the Bernabeu in the Clasico in late March and the Blaugrana at home to Diego Simeone’s side on the final day of the season.
Real Madrid heap pressure on Barcelona
Real Madrid brushed off the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo to move top of La Liga after beating Elche 3-0 thanks to goals from Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Isco.
Just after the half-hour mark, Asier Illarramendi scored his first La Liga goal for Madrid with a deflected strike, but they had to wait until the final 20 minutes for their second as Elche were at last undone by a stunning strike from Bale.
Substitute Isco completed the scoring with a finish from a tight angle in the final 10 minutes and Real’s 15th-consecutive home win all competitions keeps them firmly in the hunt at the top of the table.
Jese Rodriguez continued in Ronaldo’s absence and Illarramendi replaced the suspended Luka Modric, while Elche named an all-Spanish starting line-up.
“I’m happy because we didn’t concede,” the Italian said after his side beat Elche. “Our play could have been better, but at this point of the season, the important thing is to take our chances and we did that.”
FC Barcelona Open the Way for Real Madrid
Barcelona lost ground in the La Liga title race as they were shocked 3-1 by Real Sociedad on Saturday evening.
An Alex Song own-goal 10 minutes from half-time was quickly cancelled out by a Lionel Messi goal that saw the Argentine surpass Raul’s tally for Real Madrid and become the Spanish top flight’s third top scorer in history, but things took a turn for the worse after the break for the Catalans.
Barca were undone by two strikes early in the second half, Griezmann scoring in the 54th minute after excellent work from Carlos Vela and David Zurutuza adding a third five minutes later.
Sociedad move up to fifth, while Barca, who saw coach Gerardo Martino sent to the stands at half-time, could drop to third if Atletico Madrid avoid defeat against Osasuna on Sunday.
It took 20 minutes for the first threatening moment of the match to arrive as Barca opened up La Real’s defence through Andres Iniesta and Pedro.
The duo exchanged a number of passes before a chance opened up for Pedro, but he curled his effort wide of goal without testing Claudio Bravo. Sociedad then made the breakthrough as Gorka Elustondo forced an error from Song. Sociedad’s lead only lasted four minutes as Messi, anonymous in the opening half-hour, levelled with a low drive from the edge of the penalty area. Both sides had chances to move ahead at the start of the second half. but it was Sociedad who got a second goal as Griezmann netted his 15th of the season in the league.
Even the introduction of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez could not rouse Barca, who were lucky not to concede a fourth goal as Vela fired against the post in the final 10 minutes.
Barcelona coach Tata Martino said after the match: “”My reading of the game wasn’t up to what the match demanded,” the Argentine admitted. “Perhaps delaying the change [Cesc Fabregas for Song] was a mistake, but the two goals came close together.”
Atletico Madrid Suffer Champions League Hangover Against Osasuna
Atletico Madrid missed the chance to draw level with city rivals Real at the top of La Liga, after suffering a shock 3-0 hammering at Osasuna.
The hosts made a stirring start in Pamplona, deservedly taking the lead just six minutes in through Alvaro Cejudo.
Emiliano Armenteros added a sensational second approaching the midway point of a shockingly one-sided first half and Roberto Torres effectively put the game to bed with his effort shortly before the break.
Left-back Filipe Luis returned to Atletico’s starting line-up following a thigh strain, but coach Simeone rested key trio Miranda, Arda Turan and Koke, with all three starting on the bench.
Osasuna got off to the perfect start and took the lead within six minutes as the unmarked Cejudoturned in Armenteros’ deep corner after arriving late at the back post.
Mario Suarez was in the right place at the right time four minutes later as Cejudo’s right-wing cross looked destined to be knocked in by Oriol Riera, but the Atletico midfielder flicked it away with an important header.
Atletico were punished again after 21 minutes, however. Armenteros was given too much time and space about 25 yards from goal and the Argentine belted an unstoppable drive past the powerless Thibaut Courtois. With half-time approaching quickly, Torres amazingly put the hosts three up as he burst between Diego Godin and Toby Alderweireld to head Damia’s cross into the bottom-left corner.
Simeone had made all three of his changes by the 61st minute as Koke, Turan and former Osasuna star Raul Garcia all came on, but still Atletico struggled to cut through a well-organised defence.
“When a team are better than you, as Osasuna were, you have to congratulate them,” the Argentine coach accepted afterwards. “We did better in the second half.”
In other encounters, Athletic Bilbao won their away game against Real Betis to take lead of 4 point and maintain lead over their rivals Real Sociedad. Real Betis however, have only 14 points to their account and now almost sure of getting relegated.
Valencia continued their impressive run under new coach as they beat Granada by 2-1. Sevilla secured vital away win as they beat Rayo Valleocano by 0-1.