By Richard Martin
(Reuters) – Barcelona ended 2018 sitting three points clear at the top of La Liga after beating Celta Vigo during a weekend that featured plenty of late drama as well as one of the cheekiest penalties ever seen.
ALBA-MESSITELEPATHYLIGHTS UP BARCAVICTORY
Barca’s 2-0 win over Celta Vigo kept them three points clear at the top but the encounter will not be remembered as a classic. However, it once again showcased Lionel Messi and leftback Jordi Alba’s remarkable understanding.
The pair combined wonderfully to set up the opening goal which was knocked in on the rebound by Ousmane Dembele.
Alba then picked out Messi with a sublime curling pass which sliced through Celta’s defence, leaving the Argentine to fire home.
“He never lets me down,” Alba said of Messi after giving him a third direct assist this season. “I know that nearly every time I play him in, the ball is going to end up in the net.”
ATLETICO’S WINTER OF DISCONTENT
The build-up to Atletico Madrid’s 1-0 win over Espanyol was dominated by reports that Bayern Munich plan to swoop for defender Lucas Hernandez in January by paying his buyout clause. After the match, midfielder Thomas Partey threatened more unrest by raising doubts about his future.
“Sometimes I feel unhappy at Atletico, to be happy I need to play important games and feel stronger, feel more confidence,” said the Ghanaian after being substituted in the second half despite an impressive display.
Partey and Hernandez are not the only players with unclear futures at Atletico. Diego Godin and Jan Oblak have yet to be handed new contracts and striker Diego Costa is reportedly considering a move to the Chinese Super League.
Valencia supporters lived up to their reputation of being the most demanding fans in Spain by angrily booing their team off the pitch even after they snatched a 2-1 win over Huesca with an injury time goal.
Fans had called for coach Marcelino to be sacked as they headed towards a draw against basement club Huesca and although euphoric scenes followed Cristiano Piccini’s 94th minute winner, the players were greeted by deafening boos at the final whistle.
Defender Ezequiel Garay was caught on camera criticising the fans but he later apologised with a lengthy Instagram post.
“I understand the emotion and passion of a game but it’s never nice to hear your team mates and coach insulted,” he said.
THEAUDACITY OF ADURIZ
Athletic Bilbao’s 37-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz created a buzz with an audacious penalty against Real Valladolid, scoring with a one-step run up usually seen on five-a-side pitches.
The goal put struggling Bilbao 1-0 up on the stroke of halftime but the celebrations disappeared following an injury-time equaliser from Oscar Plano which left the Basque club hovering only a point above the drop zone.
LOWLYLEGANESCONTINUE TO FRIGHTENGIANTS OF THEGAME
Leganes may be nervously looking over their shoulders at the relegation battle but that has not stopped them from troubling the biggest teams in La Liga.
The humble Madrid outfit, who beat champions Barcelona in September and also held second-placed Atletico Madrid to a draw last month, were within minutes of beating title-contenders Sevilla in a foggy Butarque stadium on Sunday.
Leganes took an early lead through Mikel Vesga, played the second half with an extra man after Sevilla’s Franco Vazquez was sent off and hit the crossbar in the final stages, but Wissam Ben Yedder’s header in added time denied them another giant-killing win.
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)