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Barca increase La Liga lead as rivals drop points

Updated January 08, 2019

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SEVILLE: Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez fights for the ball with Sevilla’s Pablo Sarabia during their La Liga match at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.—Reuters
SEVILLE: Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez fights for the ball with Sevilla’s Pablo Sarabia during their La Liga match at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.—Reuters

MADRID: Barcelona took another step towards successfully defending their La Liga title after winning at one of the toughest teams to beat in the competition on Sunday, while their rivals dropped points.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez scored as Barca beat Getafe 2-1 to open up a five-point advantage over second-placed Atletico Madrid, who had to fight back for a 1-1 draw at third-placed Sevilla. Antoine Griezmann’s stunning free-kick earned Atletico a point at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

Real Madrid were the biggest losers of the round, defeated 2-0 at home to Real Sociedad in a match they finished with 10 men and 10 points behind Barca in fifth place.

With one round left before the halfway stage, Barca coach Ernesto Valverde isn’t ruling Real out.

“They are still in it,” Valverde said. “Mathematically they are still not out of it and we have to be prudent. We know the competitive DNA that Real have. And besides, there are other rivals like Sevilla and Atletico that are always tough.”

Leading the league in goals scored, Messi and Suarez have Barca looking like a champions-in-waiting.

Messi quashed a promising start by Getafe when he scored the 20th-minute opener at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez. He raced forward to control a loose ball in the area, poked it between the legs of goalkeeper David Soria and slotted it home from a tight angle.

Suarez matched his team-mate’s effort in the 39th when he planted his left foot as a pivot and used his right leg to rifle the ball from the edge of the area into the corner of the net with a waist-high volley.

Messi leads the league with 16 goals, followed by Suarez in second place with 12.

Jaime Mata pulled one back for Getafe just before halftime, but Mata missed a golden chance to level in the second half when he missed an open net.

Getafe had only lost once in their previous nine rounds and had conceded just one goal in their previous four home matches.

SHOCK DEFEAT

Real self-destructed against Sociedad.

First, Casemiro, recently back from a injury layoff, committed an ill-advised foul inside his own area during Sociedad’s first attack, gifting Willian Jose a third-minute penalty.

Then it was Lucas Vazquez, the team’s busy winger, who earned two bookings for nasty tackles. That left his side down a man for the last half hour.

And even though Real continued to threaten, Sociedad eventually took advantage of the extra man to finish the hosts off with a late goal from substitute Ruben Pardo.

This loss, coming after the draw away to Villarreal on Wednesday, means Real are now outside even the Champions League places.

“We committed an (early) error ... so we can’t blame anyone but ourselves,” coach Santiago Solari said.

Real’s defeat made Griezmann’s superb free-kick seem all the more valuable as the Frenchman’s fifth goal in as many games earned Atletico a point at the Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Wissam Ben Yedder put Sevilla ahead in the 37th minute of a first half that the hosts dominated until Griezmann stepped up for Atletico.

After Thomas Partey earned a foul outside the area, Griezmann curved a free kick over the defensive barrier and into the corner of the net to level in the 45th.

It was the France forward’s club-high eighth goal in the league, and his 12th in all competitions.

The stalemate allowed both rivals to extend their unbeaten streaks, with Atletico undefeated in 15 rounds and Sevilla in nine.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2019

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