Barcelona 1 win away from La Liga title after Madrid slips
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona was one victory away from clinching the Spanish league title after Real Madrid fell four points adrift on Saturday, when Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty in a 2-2 home draw to Valencia.
Barcelona cruised to a 2-0 win over Real Sociedad at Camp Nou to put the pressure on Madrid with only two more rounds to play.
Madrid appeared set to keep pace after Gareth Bale and Ronaldo hit the woodwork early, but Paco Alcacer and Javi Fuego struck for Valencia before goalie Diego Alves smothered Ronaldo’s spot kick in first-half injury time.
Pepe and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon leveled for Madrid in a dramatic second half at the Santiago Bernabeu that concluded with Valencia clinging to a draw that may cost the hosts the title.
Barcelona can dethrone Atletico Madrid with a win at its Vicente Calderon in the next round. If, and when, that match is played. The final two rounds are in doubt after the Spanish federation announced it was suspending all matches from next Saturday in protest at a proposed law regulating the sale of broadcasting rights.
After a second slip to fourth-place Valencia this season, Madrid’s best chance for silverware depends on overturning its 2-1 loss against Juventus in their second-leg Champions League semifinal on Wednesday.
“It’s very difficult for us now, but we have to wear these colors with pride, and try to win our games,” Pepe said. “We have to pick ourselves up for Wednesday’s match.”
Bale curled a free kick off one corner of the goalframe in the 14th, and four minutes later Ronaldo thumped a header off the other as Madrid looked set to romp.
But that was when Jose Gaya, the 19-year-old left back who ended months-long rumors of a move to Madrid by extending his contract on Friday, placed a perfect cross for Alcacer to stab under goalkeeper Iker Casillas in the 19th.
The Madrid crowd then received the double blow of midfielder Toni Kroos leaving with a left-thigh injury a minute before Fuego was left unmarked to head in Dani Parejo’s free kick in the 26th.
After Madrid’s Javier Hernandez also hit the post, Gaya gave Madrid a lifeline when he fouled Bale in the box just before halftime, but Alves increased his fame as a spot kick specialist by saving Ronaldo’s try.
Pepe powered in a header from James Rodriguez’s corner kick to halve the difference in the 51st.
Valencia had settled down in defense when Isco curled in a long-range strike with six to go, sparking a last-gasp push by Madrid that ended only with the final whistle.
“The result isn’t good, but the match was the complete opposite,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We fought until the end and had many chances to score ... three balls off the woodwork, a missed penalty ... but it wasn’t enough.”
Sociedad was fortunate to escape a scoreless first half at Camp Nou, but Neymar broke through in the 51st with his 35th goal of the season after Lionel Messi’s pass was headed on by a defender for the Brazilian to nod home.
Substitute Pedro Rodriguez netted from an acrobatic bicycle kick to secure the points with five minutes left, in a rare moment to shine for the forward who has spent most of the campaign on the bench.
“These three points were vital,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “The outcome was never in doubt. My players never let up for even a second.”
Barcelona’s 1-0 loss at Sociedad on Jan. 4 marked the low-point of the Catalan club’s season. Since then, it has won 28 of its last 30 games, and is in the running for three trophies — having reached the final of the Copa del Rey, and with one foot in the Champions League final after beating Bayern Munich 3-0 this week. Their second-leg semifinal is on Tuesday.
There was also drama in the fight to avoid relegation as Albert Lopo’s last-gasp header to salvage Deportivo La Coruna a 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao altered three teams’ place at the bottom of the table.
Deportivo, Eibar and Granada, which earlier beat already-relegated Cordoba 2-0, were left tied on 31 points. But the tiebreakers meant Deportivo escaped the drop zone, while Granada was left in 18th and Eibar fell to 19th.