By Rik Sharma
MADRID (Reuters) – La Liga leaders Barcelona beat Real Madrid 1-0 to all but knock their rivals out of the title race on Saturday, while second-placed Atletico Madrid stayed seven points behind the Catalans with a 2-0 win at Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Here are five talking points from the weekend in La Liga:
At Chelsea, Alvaro Morata seemed a hopeless case but Diego Simeone has helped to revive the striker’s career at Atletico Madrid since he joined on loan in January.
Morata looks a different man than the disappointing flop he proved at Stamford Bridge and scored with two headers in three minutes to earn Atletico victory at in-form Real Sociedad, making his side an even deadlier threat from set-pieces.
Barcelona may have knocked Madrid out of the title race by winning the Clasico but Morata’s headers ensure Atletico are still in with a chance, seven points behind the leaders with 12 matches to play.
Even though Barcelona beat Real Madrid 3-0 in the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg last Wednesday, the Catalans were outplayed in that match.
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde tinkered with his side ahead of the second clash of the arch-rivals in the space of four days and it paid dividends.
Vinicius Junior ripped Barcelona to shreds on Wednesday but with Sergi Roberto man-marking him at the weekend the winger had far less influence.
The return of Arthur to Barcelona’s midfield ensured the visitors had more possession at the Santiago Bernabeu and stopped Madrid from creating as many chances as they managed in the previous clash.
Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale scored one of the best-ever Clasico goals in the 2014 Copa del Rey final but since then has struggled against Barcelona.
Restored to the starting line-up by Santiago Solari after being benched for the midweek Clasico, Bale was expected to add the goals Madrid lacked in that game.
But he barely appeared in the game and when he was withdrawn by Solari the jeers, whistles and boos cascaded down from the angry Bernabeu crowd.
“He tried,” stated Real Madrid’s coach when asked about Bale’s performance, which said it all.
Many had written off Huesca when they languished 10 points from safety in January but coach Francisco has transformed their fortunes and the minnows are starting to believe they could survive after a dramatic 2-1 win over Sevilla.
The victory took them to within three points of climbing out of the relegation zone, although the game nearly ended very differently.
Sevilla scored what they thought was the winning goal in stoppage time before it was chalked off for offside but in the 97th minute Huesca ran down the other end and Ezequiel Avila finished brilliantly to give the hosts a crucial victory.
Valencia started the season badly and have frustrated their fans with 15 draws from 26 games, but they rounded off a perfect week in which they had already beaten Real Betis to reach the Copa del Rey final by beating Athletic Bilbao 2-0 on Sunday.
The victory took Marcelino’s side up to seventh spot, six behind Getafe in fourth, and they look to be in the best form of any of the contenders for the final Champions League spot.
(Reporting by Rik Sharma in Madrid; editing by Clare Fallon)