MADRID: Barcelona’s week went from bad to worse when they saw Real Madrid overtake them at the top of the Spanish league.
In midweek the under-pressure Catalan club saw scandal-enshrouded Sandro Rosell quit as president amid the fall-out of the Neymar transfer row. They can regain the league leadership tonight/Sunday but Madrid, in the meantime, took great delight in sneaking ahead, even if only for 24 hours.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 22nd goal of the season to set up a 2-0 win at home to Granada. Karim Benzema scored the second to secure Madrid’s fifth league win in a row since a 2-2 draw at Osasuna in December and they lead the way for the first time since winning the title in 2011-12.
Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid have 51 points ahead of their weekend games at home to 15th-placed Malaga and at second from bottom Rayo Vallecano respectively.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said: “The most important thing is the balance the team has at the moment, that’s the key. We are defending well and attacking well.
“There is always room for improvement and sometimes we need to increase the tempo but the key is the team’s balance.”
After a shaky start to the campaign, Real have tightened up their leaky defence and have not conceded in seven straight games in all competitions, equalling their best run of clean sheets from the 1994-95 season.
In France Paris Saint-Germain salvaged a 1-1 draw at struggling Guingamp thanks to a late Alex header to move six points clear at the top.
Brazilian centre back Alex scored in the 87th minute to cancel out Mustapha Yatabare’s 84th-minute opener in a lively encounter at the Roudourou stadium.
PSG, who were knocked out of the French Cup by Montpellier on Wednesday, lead the table with 51 points from 22 games ahead of Monaco who host fifth-placed Marseille on Sunday.
In Italy Fernando Llorente’s second-half equaliser gave 10-man Juventus a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Lazio and put them nine points clear at the top of Serie A as their 12-match winning run came to an end.
Champions Juve moved on to 56 points from 21 games after Spanish centre forward Llorente met Stefan Lichtsteiner’s cross to score with a smart, looping header on the hour that cancelled out Antonio Candreva’s 27th minute penalty.
The spot kick was given after goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was sent off for crashing into Miroslav Klose just as the striker had nipped the ball around the Juventus captain.
“These things go for and against you,” said Juve coach Antonio Conte, “but I think a penalty is already enough of a punishment, and I think a penalty and a booking should have been the maximum punishment handed out.
“We want to win, whether we have 11 or 10 men. We look to cultivate a winning mentality and these boys know very well that you play to win.
“The response (to the sending off) was good. They showed themselves to be men rather than just players. I think the team showed why they are top of the league.”
However, Lazio were unlucky not to win after striking the posts twice in the second half, first with a Klose header that keeper Marco Storari pushed on to the bar and then through Keita Balde Diao’s 86th minute curling, long range strike that rebounded off the post and back into Storari’s arms.