By Rik Sharma
BARCELONA (Reuters) - La Liga leaders Barcelona earned a narrow 1-0 win over Real Valladolid to move seven points clear at the top, while Real Madrid lost 2-1 at home against Girona to fall to third behind Atletico Madrid.
Here are five talking points from the weekend in La Liga:
MESSI'S OFF DAY
Barcelona's Lionel Messi looked back to full fitness against Real Valladolid on Saturday after a thigh problem but he was far from his virtuoso best.
The forward misplaced several passes and sent a few shots high and wide of goal, displaying unusual inaccuracy.
Nevertheless, the Argentine No. 10 also scored Barcelona's only goal of the game, driving home a first-half penalty to earn his team three points.
Summing up his poor display, Messi later missed another penalty, with former Barcelona stopper Jordi Masip diving to his left to tip the ball away.
Barcelona will hope that Messi has got this performance out of his system before they return to Champions League action on Tuesday against Olympique Lyonnais.
MARCELO'S OFF YEAR
Real Madrid seemed like they had muscled their way back into the title race but a disastrous defeat by Girona on Sunday leaves them nine points off the top.
Coach Santiago Solari rotated his side for the visit of the Catalans who are languishing near the bottom of the table and Brazilian defender Marcelo returned to the starting line-up.
This season the left-back has been overtaken in the pecking order by Madrid youth product Sergio Reguilon, and he was given a torrid afternoon by Girona winger Portu, who hit the crossbar and escaped the Brazilian's clutches to net the winning goal.
Madrid have won just one of the previous nine games in which Marcelo has started, and the defender left a sarcastic comment under an Instagram post pointing that out.
"It's all my fault!!! We continue," he wrote.
DOES ANYONE WANT FOURTH PLACE?
This season no side is stepping up to challenge the established big three in Spain.
Behind Barcelona, Atletico and Real Madrid, a host of teams seem to be fighting not to finish fourth.
Current incumbents Sevilla were beaten 3-0 at Villarreal, while fifth place Getafe had the chance to overtake the Andalusians but stumbled to a 2-2 draw at Eibar.
Later on Sunday Alaves, sixth, could also have leapfrogged Sevilla but could only draw 1-1 at Real Betis.
There is an eight point gap between Sevilla and 13th place Espanyol, showing any side in the top half of the table is still in with a shout of claiming the final Champions League qualifying spot.
OYARZABAL ON TOP
One side which is coming into form is Real Sociedad, who are unbeaten in their last nine games across all competitions.
A key figure in their revival has been striker Mikel Oyarzabal, who struck twice against Leganes in a 3-0 win on Saturday.
The 21-year-old forward now has eight league goals this season helping Real Sociedad up to seventh in the standings, just three points from the Champions League places.
Nobody would be surprised if bigger teams come calling for him in the close season.
FORM CHART DEMOLISHED
La Liga has been particularly volatile and unpredictable this season and that was exemplified this weekend.
Villarreal, 18th, ended a 10 game streak without a win to thrash Sevilla, while Girona, who beat Real Madrid, hadn't won in 14 matches before their shock triumph at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Barcelona didn't have it easy against minnows Real Valladolid, while Atletico only just scraped past Rayo Vallecano, 19th, with a late Antoine Griezmann goal in a 1-0 win.
(Editing by Christian Radnedge)