Thursday 22 February 2018

Di Maria strike keeps pressure on rampant Barcelona

Spanish Round-Up

Angel Di Maria's classy finish enabled Real Madrid to squeeze past visitors Sevilla last night and move back to within two points of leaders Barcelona, who had crushed Espanyol on Saturday.

Real were being frustrated in an ill-tempered game: the hosts had a remarkable nine bookings, two of which were for Ricardo Carvalho which left Madrid down to 10 men with 20 minutes remaining. Sevilla's Mouhamadou Dabo was also sent off late on.

However, Di Maria's trickery in the box bought him enough space to squeeze a shot home at the near post on 77 minutes.

Barca, though, remain in pole position after making light of a potentially tricky city derby. Pedro and David Villa scored two apiece and Xavi added the other as Barcelona won 5-1 to make it 10 wins in a row and extend their unbeaten run to 22.

Pep Guardiola's side have now scored 37 goals in their last eight La Liga games. Their points tally of 43 after 16 games also stands as a league record going into the two-week winter break.

Espanyol had won all of their seven home league matches this season.

Surprise

"My team never ceases to surprise me," Guardiola said. "Espanyol had only conceded two goals at home. It's a great night for us because we were aware we were playing a great team. It's no coincidence that we have struggled here a lot."

Espanyol fans gave Barca's Andres Iniesta a standing ovation before kick-off and later when he was substituted in recognition of his gesture after scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final for Spain. Iniesta had taken off his shirt to reveal a vest with a dedication to former Espanyol captain Dani Jarque, who died of a heart failure last year aged 26.

Lionel Messi set up Pedro to score the opener in the 19th minute. Xavi volleyed in from a tight angle in the 30th minute and Messi burst away on the hour to allow Pedro poach the third.

Pablo Osvaldo broke free to beat Victor Valdes soon after, but Villa finished off two one-on-ones to wrap up a commanding victory.

Villarreal broke clear in third with a 3-1 win over Real Mallorca. Valencia moved above Espanyol on goal difference into fourth after Aritz Aduriz scored last-minute goal in a 2-1 win at Real Sociedad.

Irish Independent

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