The margin for error in the race for the Spanish title remains wafer-thin following a weekend where all three teams at the top cruised to wins, leaving Barcelona and Atletico Madrid even on points and Real Madrid just a single point behind them.
Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Madrid
Playing away against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, things looked like they might have been headed in a very different direction for Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane’s men unexpectedly found themselves two goals down early in the match. However, a standout performance from Gareth Bale hauled the Whites back into the game and on to an eventual victory. The Welshman scored in the 35th to cut the deficit and eventually found the winner, late in the match after substitute Lucas Vazquez had equalized.
With an eye towards Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Manchester City, Zidane made a number of changes to the lineup: Cristiano Ronaldo was rested due to a thigh problem while Sergio Ramos, James Rodrigues and Luka Modric all started on the bench. Worryingly for Madrid, Karim Benzema had to be subbed off just before halftime, and is a doubt for Tuesday’s game.
But it was clearly the Gareth Bale show on Saturday. It’s hard to imagine the former Tottenham man putting in such a domineering performance with Ronaldo on the pitch, which once again begs the question, how well do the two really play together?
Atletico Madrid vs. Malaga
A single goal from substitute Angel Correa was all Atletico Madrid needed to dispense with a visiting Malaga side on Saturday. Malaga were allowed to dominate possession and yet, Atleti managed twice as many shots as the visitors, as Diego Simeone’s team executed their usual game plan: soaking up pressure and hitting on the counter-attack.
Simeone was forced to watch the second half from the stands after he was sent off for a bizarre incident in which a second ball was hurled from the Atleti bench into the path of a Malaga counter. After a brief discussion with the ref, El Cholo received his marching orders. In the end, the game proved tougher going than expected, but the win sees Atleti maintaining their standing in the title race and in a good position for Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Bayern Munich.
Barcelona vs. Sporting Gijon
After putting up eight unanswered goals against Deportivo in midweek, Barcelona continued their resurgence by dumping a similar score line on a hapless Sporting Gijon side Saturday. Luis Suarez scored four while Neymar and Lionel Messi scored one each in the 6-0 drubbing at the Camp Nou. The good result added further credence to the narrative that Barça’s mini-crisis is over.
Suarez’s four goals also catapulted him to the top of the La Liga scoring chart, his 34-goal tally taking him above Ronaldo’s 31. With no Champions League football to contend with, Barcelona can now bring their full might to bear on the La Liga title race, making them many people’s favorites to retain the title.
Real Madrid will face Manchester City in the Champions League this Tuesday, April 26th at 2:45 p.m. EST, while Atletico face Bayern Wednesday April 27 at 2:45 p.m. EST. Both matches can be seen on Fox Sports 1.
Barcelona resume their La Liga campaign against Real Betis this Saturday, April 30 at 2:30 p.m. EST; you can catch that match on beINSports.