Messi and Griezmann lift Barcelona up to second place with victory over Athletic (2-1)
Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann each scored to help lift Barcelona to a 2-1 victory over Athletic Club on Sunday night at the Camp Nou.
The win had to have been sweet for the Catalans after having fallen to the Basques in the Supercopa de Espana final two weeks prior. It started with an impeccable freekick from Lionel Messi that was cancelled out by a Jordi Alba own goal early in the second-half. However, some classic Barcelona football with pinpoint passing and quick ball movement resulted in Griezmann's match-winner.
Messi was back in Ronald Koeman's starting XI with Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele in attack, while Miralem Pjanic came in for the suspended Sergio Busquets in midfield and centre-back Samuel Umtiti started ahead of Clement Lenglet.
The 555-million-euro man had the first chance of the match in the early minutes, but failed to chip past Athletic goalkeeper Unai Simon. Soon enough the Argentine got another crack at goal from a favourable free-kick position outside the area and he could not have struck it any sweeter, curling a left-footed effort that sailed right over the head of defender Yeray and into the top right corner of net for a 1-0 lead.
Barcelona remained mostly in control during the 45 minutes, but they were in for a rude awakening to start the second stanza when an excellent cross from Raul Garcia from the left was mistakenly turned into net by Alba due to the pressure coming from Oscar de Marcos.
The home side looked to regain control and started poking and prodding the Athletic defence, including a Pjanic header that required a reaction save from Unai Simon. The former Roma and Juventus man would be the first one to be replaced, with Sergi Roberto making his return from a long-term injury and slotting into midfield.
Barcelona had Athletic pegged back as they hunted the go-ahead goal and some slick passing would give Koeman's that coveted second score with a quarter-hour to go. Dembele found Oscar Mingueza on an overlapping run and the square across was put on a silver platter for Griezmann to slam into net to make it 2-1.
Just like in the Supercopa final when they edged Barcelona in extra time, Athletic looked to pull level at the end of regulation and Inaki Williams came within a whisker of getting on the end of a Yuri Berchiche cross just yards away from goal.
Koeman looked to shore things up in the back to try to see things out, so Lenglet was summoned to replace Griezmann, followed by Martin Braithwaite on for Dembele.
This time around there would be no late equaliser for Athletic, as Barcelona saw things out to pocket the three points to climb up to second in the table.
2.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Mingueza, Umtiti, Araujo, Jordi Alba, Pjanic (Sergi Roberto, min. 67), Frenkie De Jong, Pedri, Griezmann (Lenglet, min. 84), Dembele, Messi.
1.- Athletic Club: Unai Simon, Capa (Lekue, min. 84), Yeray, Inigo Martinez, Yuri, Vencedor (Vesga, min. 67), Dani Garcia, De Marcos (Berenguer, min. 67), Muniain, Raul Garcia, Williams (Villalibre, min. 84).
Goals: 1-0, min. 19: Messi; 1-1, min. 50: Alba (og); 2-1, min. 74: Griezmann
Referee: Mateu Lahoz (Valencian). Cards: Raul Garcia (Min. 32) for Athletic, Yeray (Min. 39) for Athletic, Jordi Alba (Min. 51) for Barcelona, Capa (Min. 77) for Athletic
Red cards: None
Stadium: Camp Nou
Dominant Atletico Madrid gain 10-point lead with victory over Cadiz (4-2)
All eyes were on Cadiz as Atletico Madrid looked to take advantage of Real Madrid's slip up against Levante to extend their lead to 10 points at the top of LaLiga Santander and they did just that.
From the very first minute of this tie at the Estadio Ramon de Carranza, when Jan Oblak spilt a shot for a corner, it was evident that this tie was bound to be a thriller.
Luis Suarez opened the scoring with a fine direct freekick from 20-yards out, only for another veteran, Alvaro Negredo to pull the scoreline back with a fine effort of his own from the edge of the box.
Saul stepped up with a more fortuitous goal as Atleti created their own luck on the stroke of half-time, while they also had referee Jesus Gil Manzano to thank after he ruled out a penalty initially awarded for a Koke handball.
Half-time provided an opportunity to regroup, with Atleti looking less convincing defensively without Mario Hermoso and Kieran Trippier, while Lucas Torreira was doing little to justify his first start in midfield since October.
A change in shape beckoned, with Sime Vrsaljko brought on for the Uruguayan at the break, and Los Colchoneros got off to an ideal start as Suarez added a second from the penalty spot.
Negredo was keeping pace with his counterpart though and notched a brace himself, this time beating a sprawling Oblak as his header squeezed in off the post.
Cadiz kept the pressure on the visitors and continued to push, but Atletico looked more solid as Simeone introduced Geoffrey Kondogbia and Hector Herrera in midfield.
Koke would put the game to bed with just two minutes left on the clock, stepping up at the far post to turn the cross of another substitute, Angel Correa, into a goal.
The result leaves Atletico Madrid ten points clear of second-placed Real Madrid with a game in hand, and as the end of the season comes into sight, Atletico fans have more and more reason to believe that the title could be heading to the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano.
Militao red leaves Real Madrid adrift (1-2)
Real Madrid's title hopes took a big hit on Saturday as an early Eder Militao red card led to a 2-1 defeat to Levante at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano.
The Brazilian defender was sent off for clipping Sergio Leon from behind before the clock had even reached double-digits, but a Marco Asensio goal suggested that the hosts could hang on. Levante would find their way back though, as a Jose Luis Morales goal later in the first half and a Roger Marti strike in the second half earned the visitors the three points.
Madrid are now seven points back of league leaders Atletico, with Los Colchoneros owning two games in hand.
Manager Zinedine Zidane was still absent due to Covid, so trusted assistant David Bettoni was the lead man on the bench, however with no Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Lucas Vazquez, Nacho, Fede Valverde and Rodrygo, some line-up shuffling was in order. That meant Adrian Odriozola enjoyed a rare start at right-back, Militao at centre back, while Asensio and Eden Hazard joined Karim Benzema up top.
Inside the first ten minutes, things took a turn for the worse for the home side when a Levante counter-attack saw Militao take down Sergio Leon from behind just outside the area. The Levante attacker was clearly in on goal and had just goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to beat, and after initially being shown yellow, the Brazilian defender was sent off with a straight red courtesy of VAR.
The sending off seemed to galvanise Madrid for the moment, however, and minutes later they held a 1-0 lead thanks to an exquisite pass from Toni Kroos into Asensio, who finished with aplomb to break the deadlock. Levante howled that Mendy had committed a foul on Melero in the Madrid area prior to the Kroos pass, but no call was forthcoming from VAR and referee Medie Jimenez.
Levante were left groggy by the Madrid knockdown, but soon regained their footing and put their man advantage to work. The equaliser would come shortly after the half-hour mark with an inch-perfect cross from Jorge Miramon to Morales, who took it on the bounce and struck a perfect shot that beat Courtois to level things at 1-1.
The first Madrid change did not come until shortly before the hour mark, with Vinicius replacing Hazard. The Brazilian would be in the middle of things right away, but not exactly in a good way, as his foul on Clerc right on the edge of the area was ultimately ruled a penalty by VAR. Roger Marti stepped up to take the spot kick, but was denied by the outstretched hand of Courtois, keeping the score even.
Any bad thoughts for Roger lingering from his missed penalty dissipated the second he fired home to hand Levante a 2-1 lead with less than a quarter-hour to play. Bardhi did well to fizz a pass into Roger, who took a touch and then hammered in a right-footer for the goal.
With just minutes remaining, it was back to the bench for Madrid with Mariano on for Benzema, while youngster Sergio Arribas got his first significant minutes with the first team after replacing Asensio.
Many times before Madrid have summoned a last-minute miracle to get a result at home, but on this day things were different, as Levante saw things out to leave the capital city with the three points.
1.- Real Madrid: Courtois; Odriozola, Militao, Varane, Mendy; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric; Asensio (Sergio Arribas, min. 83), Hazard (Vinicius, min. 59), Benzema (Mariano, min. 82).
2.- Levante: Aitor; Miramon, Duarte, Postigo, Clerc; Morales (Dani Gomez, min. 76), Malsa (Rochina, min. 60), Radoja, Melero; Sergio Leon (Bardhi, min. 60), Roger (Veza, min. 83).
Goals: 1-0, min. 14: Asensio; 1-1, min. 33: Morales; 1-2, min. 78: Roger
Referee: Medie Jimenez (Catalonian). Yellow cards: Malsa (Min. 50) for Levante, Melero (Min. 72) for Levante, Casemiro (Min. 90) for Real Madrid
Red cards: Militao (Min. 9) for Real Madrid
Stadium: Alfredo di Stefano