The top three La Liga teams all played uncharacteristically indifferent games against their opponents. Although FC Barcelona managed to collect three points, Atletico Madrid had a goalless home draw while Real Madrid were lucky to draw 1-1 with Real Betis at Benito Villamarin. In Saturday’s fixture, a scintillating second-half volley from Lionel Messi helped FC Barcelona to a 2-1 road victory over Malaga and the ensuing three points took the Catalans to the top of the League Table. But that did not happen without Barcelona suffering some anxiety against Javi Gracia’s team, which had kept the score level at 1-1 at halftime. Malaga had kept Barca in check on their home turf but the newly crowned Ballon d’Or winner restored Barcelona’s lead with an acrobatic volley after he received a perfect ball from Adriano. Elsewhere, Sevilla did a favor to FC Barcelona by holding Atletico Madrid to a goalless draw in Madrid and that prevented Atletico from getting back the top spot, which they had been holding for a while. Now as Barcelona prepare for a mouthwatering home game against Atleti next Saturday, the new title race leader will emerge. Meanwhile at Benito Villamarin, Real Madrid failed to please their new coach for the third successive time after drawing 1-1 with home side Real Betis. Playing a lackluster game, Real Madrid trailed 0-1 from the 7th minute until Karim Benzema found the equalizer late in the second half. The result brought Madrid back to the third spot, 4 points adrift from Barca and Atleti, both of whom have 48 points each.
In their 20th La Liga game against Malaga at Rosaleda Stadium in Southern Spain, FC Barcelona got off to a grand start, when Luis Suarez entered the Malaga penalty area and tried a low shot into the goal. But the block by Malaga goalkeeper fell in the path of Munir El Haddadi, who pounced on the opportunity and put Barca 1-0 ahead in the 2nd minute. However, the lead couldn’t last beyond 32 minutes as the hosts equalized. To some extent, Barca were responsible for that goal as Javier Mascherano surrendered possession dangerously close to the Barca goal. As the ball fell in the path of Malaga midfielder Juanpi, he shot through the goal. Mascherano fell full length to block the shot but the ball got deflected off him into the goal. The teams went to the break with scores level at 1-1.
For this match Neymar and Gerard Pique were not playing but Messi and Luis Suarez had come back after missing Barca’s first-leg 2-1 Copa del Rey quarterfinal win over Athletic Club on Wednesday. Seven minutes into the second half, the marvelous Messi was in his brilliant best as he produced an acrobatic volley after receiving a swinging cross from Adriano. That goal restored Barcelona’s lead and no more goals were scored during the remaining time.
On Sunday, Atletico Madrid were held goalless by Sevilla and that ensured top spot for Barca in the league table. Atletico were expected to beat the visitors on their home turf but indifferent play by Atleti and a fighting Sevilla prevented the home team from taking any advantage in 90 minutes. In another game at Benito Villamarin, Real Madrid were overwhelmed by Real Betis. It brought an end to Zidane’s gloating over two fine victories since he took over as Real’s coach. Betis kept the visitors under pressure throughout the match. They took a 1-0 lead in the 7th minute from a goal by Alvaro Cejudo and continued to torment Madrid until Karim Benzema came up with a 71st minute equalizer. Betis is not a great team and Zidane might have hoped to garner three crucial points by winning away from home but the new coach couldn’t get lucky enough.
The results of the matches on Saturday and Sunday have taken Barcelona on top of the league standing. Next week, Atletico de Madrid travel to Camp Nou for a crucial game against Barcelona that will set the course of the title race. Real Madrid have their next game at home against Espanyol next Sunday and they will have to win it to keep their title hopes alive.