Barca four points clear after Real held by Valencia
MADRID – Real Madrid’s hopes of overhauling La Liga leaders Barcelona suffered a stinging blow when they were held to a 2-2 draw at home to Valencia on Saturday to slip four points behind their arch rivals with two games left.
Treble-chasing Barca had earlier secured a nervous 2-0 victory at home to Real Sociedad and Real’s stumble capped a superb week for the Catalan giants after Wednesday’s 3-0 drubbing of Bayern Munich put them on the brink of a place in the Champions League final.
Real, by contrast, are facing the real possibility of elimination from Europe’s elite club competition following the holders’ 2-1 defeat at Juventus in their semi-final, first leg.
Barca, through to the King’s Cup final against Athletic Bilbao at the end of the month, play their return match at Bayern on Tuesday and Real host Juve on Wednesday.
Valencia raced into a surprise 2-0 lead at the Bernabeu through goals from Paco Alcacer and Javi Fuego before Real forward Cristiano Ronaldo had a penalty saved by goalkeeper Diego Alves on the stroke of halftime.
Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Javier Hernandez had earlier struck efforts against the frame of the goal and Real’s Germany midfielder Toni Kroos had to be replaced by Asier Illarramendi because of a suspected muscle injury.
Pepe pulled a goal back for Real with a header from a corner 11 minutes into the second half and Isco levelled with a superb curling shot six minutes from time but Valencia held on in an action-packed finale.
“We didn’t start the game well but we played a great second half,” Pepe told Spanish television.
“If we play like that against Juve we will get through,” added the Portugal centre back. “The league is difficult now but you have to sweat for this shirt.”
Barca have 90 points, with Real on 86 and champions Atletico Madrid 10 points further adrift in third ahead of their game at Levante on Sunday.
With Valencia three points behind them in fourth, a win would virtually assure Atletico of Spain’s third automatic Champions League berth.
At the Nou Camp, Sociedad’s Argentine goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli conjured up a series of superb saves to deny Barca’s attacking trident of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez before Neymar finally found the net six minutes into the second half.
Sociedad defender Mikel Gonzalez attempted a clearance but the ball fell kindly for the Brazil forward and he nodded home to settle the home fans’ jangling nerves.
Neymar, who netted Barca’s third goal against Bayern, has scored in his last six appearances in all competitions, equaling his best run since joining from Santos in 2013.
Pedro’s playing time has been limited this season but he scored one of the goals of the season four minutes from time shortly after replacing Rafinha.
The ball looped up in the penalty area and the Spain international sent it arrowing into the roof of the net with an acrobatic overhead kick.
It was a club-record seventh straight match Barca have prevented their opponents from scoring, during which they have rattled in 25 goals.
“It was predictable that we would drop our rhythm (after the Bayern victory) but we wanted to win at all costs,” Neymar told Spanish television.
“Sociedad are a great team and we knew it would be tough,” he added.
Saturday’s matches are being played under the cloud of a looming strike orchestrated by the Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) and the players’ union (AFE) due to a dispute over a new law on collective bargaining for the sale of television rights.
The two organisations, who complain the law does not take their interests sufficiently into account, have threatened to halt games from May 16, meaning the final two La Liga matchdays and the Cup final are under threat. – Reuters