Barcelona hit five past Real Betis to kill off Real Madrid’s slim title hopes
There's no way back for Real Madrid. Barcelona just keep winning.
When Barcelona lost 1-0 to Espanyol in the first leg of the Copa del Rey mid-week, it showed the runaway league leaders could be beaten. Oscar Melendo came off the bench at the RCDE Stadium to grab the winner in the 88th minute, leaving the football world stunned. It was the Blaugrana's first defeat in any competition this season. Now it just had to happen in La Liga.
That first loss of the season rekindled hope in Madridista hearts, both of the Real and Atletico persuasion. Valencians too. The three sides still clung to a slim chance of winning the title this season.
Valencia didn't take its chance, falling to Las Palmas in a match better forgotten. After taking an early lead, the Bats threw it all away with an undisciplined performance at Estadio Gran Canaria. Poor defending led to an equalizer from Jonathan Viera in the 20th minute. Gabriel Paulista received a second yellow card for dissent. He was sent off after conceding a penalty for handball. Jonathan Calleri made no mistake in slotting the ball home for the home side. Ruben Vezo also saw red in the 86th minute for an elbow. Down two men there was no way back for Valencia. The 2-1 reversal leaves els Taronges 14 points adrift.
Atleti dropped points as well in a one-goal draw with Girona at the Wanda Metropolitano, much to the home support's disappointment. Diego Simeone substituted both Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann. Los Colchoneros are now 11 points behind Barcelona.
On the other hand Real Madrid pounced. The Merengues returned to winning ways at the Santiago Bernabeu. A commanding performance saw both Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo grab braces. Deportivo de la Coruna was mauled 7-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Mark Twain before them, Zinedine Zidane's side let the world know "reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated."
But Ernesto Valverde’s side heard the alarm bells. The daydreaming ended. Focus returned. Real Betis found themselves in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. Barcelona did what it does best with an emphatic 5-0 thrashing of Real Betis. It too had an announcement for Real and the world. Forget it. You're done and dusted.
The Blaugrana are not ones to pass up opportunities. They took full advantage after a drab first half ended goalless. Strikes from Ivan Rakitic, Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez ensured the gap with Madrid was maintained. As one would expect, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez responded to the Bale and Ronaldo braces with doubles of their own.
Real did make progress. It closed its deficit to third-place Valencia to five with a game in hand. Atleti is just eight ahead having played one match more. Los Blancos are closing on second. Unfortunately, that is a goal far beneath its lofty standards.
What matters is the Catalans remain 19 points away. Even with an extra game to play, the mountain to be climbed is steep. If Madrid was perfect through season's end, it would still need Barca to drop 17 points, only 16 if Real can win by four goals or more in the Camp Nou Clasico. Including that match, the formula is a combination that falls somewhere between six Barcelona defeats and nine draws in its final 19 games. Ha.
Time for Zidane to focus on the Champions League.