Gap closes on tired Barcelona
Madrid: The games are catching up with Barcelona and the title race could be back on in La Liga, while Cristiano Ronaldo is scoring goals again at just the right time.
“There is league!” is what the newspaper headlines often scream (‘Hay Liga’ in Spanish) after a result that blows the title race wide open. It might seem like a bit of a stretch to say that now given that Barcelona are still seven points clear at the top of the table and remain unbeaten. However, that gap was 11 points at the end of January, since when Barcelona have now drawn twice — against Espanyol and Getafe — while Atletico Madrid in second have recorded two 1-0 wins. And the teams are still to meet at the Camp Nou at the start of March.
Barca looked a little sluggish and lacking in inspiration in their 0-0 draw with Getafe at the Camp Nou on Sunday, and coach Ernesto Valverde later admitted as much. “Maybe we lacked a bit of spark, it’s possible,” he said at the end of the game. It is hardly a surprise, with their run in the Copa del Rey meaning the Catalans have just played 12 times in five and a half weeks since the winter break. The good news for them is that they now have a free midweek for the first time in 2018 before going to Eibar next weekend, and then travelling to Chelsea in the Champions League.
Cristiano Ronaldo certainly loves playing against Real Sociedad, his hat-trick in Real Madrid’s 5-2 win over the Basque side at the Bernabeu on Saturday meaning he has now scored 15 times against them in seven home games in La Liga. It was his first hat-trick of the season, and a perfect one at that — one with each foot and a header. Ronaldo has 11 La Liga goals this season, with seven coming in the last four matches. He has found form again at just the right time before Wednesday’s clash with Paris Saint-Germain. “We are happy for him. On Friday people were asking me if I was worried about his lack of goals and then he puts three past Real Sociedad,” said coach Zinedine Zidane.
Spain goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga finally made his comeback for Athletic Bilbao after injury and the January move to Real Madrid that never was. He kept a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Las Palmas and later said: “A lot of things were said. The truth is that in the end I am here and I have renewed for eight years.” But the talented 23-year-old is not going to solve Athletic’s problems in attack, as this performance showed. The Basque side have scored just eight times at home in the league this season in 11 games, and there were jeers around San Mames after another toothless display.
The tiny Basque club from the town of 27,000 people continue to massively exceed expectations after a late, late goal from Ivan Ramis handed them a 1-0 win away at Leganes. Only Atletico Madrid have beaten them since the start of December and they are currently seventh, which could be enough for a Europa League place at the season’s end. “Licence to dream” was how sports daily Marca put it.