Saturday 18 November 2017

Messi's winner maintains title pressure on Atletico

European round-up

Barcelona's players observe a minute of silence for their former coach Tito Vilanova before their match against Villarreal at the Madrigal
Barcelona's players observe a minute of silence for their former coach Tito Vilanova before their match against Villarreal at the Madrigal
Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring against Villarreal
Villarreal players wear a t-shirt in memory of former Barcelona head coach Tito Vilanova
Barcelona's Marc Bartra competes for the ball with Villarreal's Bruno Soriano
Barcelona's Andres Iniesta and Villarreal's Bruno Soriano fight for the ball
Barcelona's Dani Alves challenges Villarreal's Giovani Dos Santos

Thomas Williams

Atletico Madrid stayed on course for the Spanish title as Raul Garcia's headed goal gave them a 1-0 victory away to Valencia ahead of their Champions' League clash with Chelsea on Wednesday.

Victory took Atletico to a club record 88 points with three games left, four points clear of second-placed Barcelona who relied on a late Lionel Messi goal to defeat Villarreal 3-2 last night. Real Madrid, who beat Osasuna on Saturday and still have a game in hand on their city rivals, are six points behind Atletico.

Atletico's win made it imperative that an injury-plagued Barca followed suit and they did – just. Mourning the death of their former coach Tito Vilanova, Barca had to come from 2-0 down to keep their title hopes alive, Messi pouncing in the 83rd minute for the winner.

Barca – for whom defender Dani Alves responded to a racist taunt when a banana landed at his feet by picking up the fruit, peeling and then eating it before proceeding to take a corner kick – went behind to goals from Cani and Manuel Trigueros either side of half-time. However, own goals from Paulista and Musacchio gave them a lifeline before Messi's right-footed effort.

Atletico were not at their best and lacked their usual high intensity, possibly a result of tiredness after a grueling campaign and this week's Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, but inched their way closer to the title.

Diego Costa could have added to Atletico's lead after the break but Valencia also wasted good chances. Atletico also had Juanfran red-carded in injury-time after a challenge on Pablo Piatti.

Earlier on Saturday, Real Madrid's rampant Cristiano Ronaldo looked to be back at his best as he scored at the start of each half to set up a 4-0 victory over lowly Osasuna.

Sergio Ramos and Daniel Carvajal also netted for Real who are second on 82 points. Real did not risk Gareth Bale or Karim Benzema ahead of their Champions league semi-final second leg at Bayern Munich tomorrow in which they hold a 1-0 advantage.

But there was no holding Ronaldo, who only returned from injury in Wednesday's first leg against Bayern at the Bernabeu having been out since early April, as he cut in from the left wing and fired into the corner of the net after six minutes.

The prolific Portuguese forward then cracked home a fine long-range drive after 52 minutes before being substituted, leaving Ramos and Carvajal to wrap up the win with headers.

Carlo Ancellotti added that Bale and Benzema will be fine to face Bayern, saying: "Benzema is improving and won't have any problems for Tuesday. He will train normally tomorrow."

WARNING

Bayern's veteran striker Claudio Pizarro fired a warning shot at Real when he scored twice in an explosive second half to help Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich crush Werder Bremen 5-2 on Saturday.

The 34-year-old Peru international, usually second choice behind Mario Mandzukic, has recently been called on to help the Bavarians out of trouble.

He did just that when he tapped in twice with the instinct of a world-class centre-forward to turn the game around after Bayern trailed 2-1 at half-time.

Meanwhile in France, Paris Saint-Germain fell short of securing the Ligue 1 title as Thiago Silva's own goal handed Sochaux a second-half equaliser and a 1-1 draw.

Edinson Cavani had scored in the 24th minute to raise hopes that Laurent Blanc's side could clinch their second successive Ligue 1 title on their visit to third-from-bottom Sochaux.

Sochaux's own hopes for staying up next season were boosted by the result.

Dimitar Berbatov's double strike on Saturday helped second-placed Monaco crush bottom club Ajaccio 4-1 to keep the title race alive.

PSG, who won the French League Cup by beating Olympique Lyon 2-1 last weekend, have 83 points with three games remaining. Monaco are eight points adrift.

In Italy, furious Juventus coach Antonio Conte dismissed alleged comments by AS Roma counterpart Rudi Garcia as "provincial" and "bar talk", adding more spice to the Serie A title race between the two sides.

"I was taken by surprise by the comments of the Roma coach," said Conte, who has also had heated exchanges with Napoli counterpart Rafael Benitez, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli and Russia's Fabio Capello in the last few weeks.

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