VALENCIA, SPAIN - APRIL 14: Thiago Alcantara of FC Barcelona (R) duels for the ball with Pedro Lopez of Levante UD during the La Liga match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia on April 14, 2012 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
2 Total Updates since April 14, 2012
about 1 year ago Update 0 comments
Barcelona kept pace with Real Madrid in the race for the La Liga title with a win at Levante, but they were made to work very hard for the three points at the Ciudad de Valencia. The visitors were well to top at the beginning of the match, but their possession counted for very little as they were forced to sling in crossed from the wings and attempting to convert via header. It's not their specialty, and Barcelona looked a little bit confused as to exactly how it's done, with the ball mostly popping harmlessly into the air and ending up in Gustavo Munua's arms.
Then, against the run of play, Levante went in front. Xavi gave the ball away carelessly in the midfield and the hosts were able to win a corner. From said corner an awful Victor Valdes error led to Sergio Busquets hurling himself into the path of a shot. The ball hit him in the hands, but they were in front of his chest, which is almost never a penalty. Except here, apparently.
Jose Barkero stepped up, sweeping his spot kick down the middle with Victor Valdes diving the wrong way, and Levante were 1-0 up. It was time for some dogged defending, and the hosts managed to render their star-studded opponents relatively impotent thereafter. Forty scoreless minutes followed the goal as the defending champions get increasingly desperate, eventually withdrawing Xavi and Pedro for Isaac Cuenca and Andres Iniesta.
It was Lionel Messi, however, who got them back into the game. He opened up space to shoot at the top of the box via a one-two with Alexis Sanchez, and finished brilliantly from 20 yards with a curling effort that just about eluded Munua. Barcelona were buoyed by the equaliser, and it looked like only a matter of time until they grabbed a second.
It came in slightly unpalatable form, with Cuenca appearing to dive in the box to win a very dodgy penalty. Levante will feel aggrieved that the spot kick was given, although they'd profited heavily from a dubious call of their own in the first half. Messi stepped up and blasted into the top corner to make it 2-1. Despite a late Levante rally, that's how the match would end.
Barcelona go back to within four points of Real Madrid, and with the Catalans hosting Los Blancos next week, the title race is by no means over just yet.
about 1 year ago Update 0 comments
Real Madrid earned a key 3-1 win against Sporting Gijon to cement their place at the top of the La Liga standings. It was hardly the most convincing of victories, something that will worry Jose Mourinho with his team facing a Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich and then a trip to the Camp Nou to take on Barcelona in a week, but three points are three points and the victory ensures that no matter what happens it'll be Madrid at the top of the table at the end of the next Clasico.
Although Real dominated the early stages of play, it was the visitors who went ahead in the 30th minute after Sergio Ramos handled in the penalty area, Miguel de las Cuevas - a man who the Santiago Bernabeu isn't particularly fond of - converting the spot kick to give Sporting a shock 1-0 lead. The goal merely spurred the home side into action, however, and Ramos made up for his mistake with a wonderful raking diagonal which Gonzalo Higuain nodded past Juan Pablo for the equaliser.
A point wouldn't be good enough, though, and for a long while it looked as though Sporting would be able to hold out against their rather more illustrious opponents. Nuri Sahin rattled the crossbar with a free kick. Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo came close, but from offside positions. The visitors were defending well and there seemed to be no way through.
But whenever Real really need him this season, Ronaldo has stepped to the fore. It was no different here, and after 74 minutes the Portuguese star broke the deadlock with a glancing header from Angel di Maria's cross. The situation rapidly got much worse for Sporting when Roberto Canella picked up a second yellow for a rash challenge on di Maria and Benzema finished them off with a neat finish after being picked out by Mesut Ozil.