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Sunday 25 March 2018

Real blow chance to seize title initiative after Atletico suffer shock defeat

Real Madrid's Gareth Bale and Valencia's Seydou Keita challenge for the ball
Real Madrid's Gareth Bale and Valencia's Seydou Keita challenge for the ball
Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria reacts after missing a chance to score against Valencia during their draw at the Santiago Bernabeu
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo grimaces as he is tackled by Valencia's Javier Fuego
Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa reacts as his team-mate Raul Garcia fails to score during their La Liga defeat to Levante
Atletico Madrid's Koke is put under pressure by Levante's Papa Diop
Atletico Madrid's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Diego Godin react after Levante score their second goal at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium

Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid both slipped up last night to tighten a compelling La Liga race even further.

Atletico's march toward their first title since 1996 hit a bump when they lost 2-0 at Levante, but Real failed to take advantage and needed a spectacular injury-time equaliser from Cristiano Ronaldo to salvage a 2-2 draw at home to Valencia.

Ronaldo deftly used the sole of his right boot to turn in a cross in the 92nd minute to leave Real five points behind Atletico with a game in hand, which they will play at Valladolid on Wednesday.

Barcelona had written off their hopes of retaining the title after drawing 2-2 with Getafe on Saturday, but now the race is now wide open again.

Barca trail Atletico by three points with both having two games left – they play each other on the final day of the season.

Victory for Atletico in Valencia would have meant they needed only a win at home to Malaga next weekend to secure top spot and render their final match at Barcelona the following week irrelevant.

However, an own goal from Filipe Luis in the seventh minute and a neat finish from David Barral 21 minutes from time meant Atletico failed to take advantage of Barca's draw with Getafe, where the visitors grabbed an injury-time equaliser.

Barca players and fans paid a moving tribute before their kick-off to former coach Tito Vilanova, who died last month following a battle with throat cancer.

The match appeared to be going according to plan when Lionel Messi, who played under Vilanova as a teenager in the Catalan club's academy, made it 1-0 in the 23rd minute.

Getafe snatched the first of two surprise equalisers eight minutes before the break through Angel Lafita.

The introduction of playmaker Cesc Fabregas just after the hour gave them some extra zip. It was his cross that eventually found its way to Alexis in the 67th minute, and the Chile forward fired a first-time effort into the corner.

Barca were again guilty of failing to turn dominance into the goals that would have killed off the game and Lafita made them pay with a superb strike.

In Italy, Juventus won a third consecutive Serie A title without playing yesterday when AS Roma, the only team who could catch them, capitulated to a 4-1 defeat at lowly Catania.

Roma, who had bravely kept their challenge going by winning their last nine games, inexplicably produced one of their worst performances of the season against the Sicilian strugglers.

Mariano Izco stunned Roma by scoring twice in a six-minute spell in the first half and, although Francesco Totti pulled one back for Romaa, it was only a lull in the storm.

Gonzalo Bergessio extended Catania's lead in the 56th minute and Pablo Barrientos fired a fourth to kill off Roma's title hopes. The defeat left Roma eight points behind Juventus, who host Atalanta today.

Meanwhile in Germany, midfielder Mario Goetze scored twice to help Bayern Munich beat struggling Hamburg SV 4-1 on Saturday and bounce back in style from their 4-0 demolition by Real Madrid.

The win takes some pressure off coach Pep Guardiola, who was accused of sticking to his trademark possession game against Real.

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