MADRID: Barcelona, Atletico and Real Madrid remain locked together in pursuit of the Spanish league title after all three won their latest Liga challenges.
The two clubs from the capital kept up the pressure on Barcelona with early wins on Saturday the champions responded in the evening with a 2-0 success at 10-man Betis.
Second-half goals from Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez ensured Barcelona returned to the top of the table, ahead of Atletico on mutual match goal difference and in front of Real by a point, with two matches of the season to go.
Rakitic made the most of a calamitous defensive error from the hosts to put Barca ahead in the 50th minute after Heiko Westermann was sent off for Betis for a second booking in quick succession just before the break.
Primera top scorer Suarez then grabbed a 35th league goal of the season, finishing off a pass from Lionel Messi in the 81st minute.
Real were the first of the title protagonists to play and Gareth Bale was their hero for the second week running as the Wales international headed home the only goal in a 1-0 win at Real Sociedad.
The former Tottenham forward nodded in Lucas Vazquez’s cross with 10 minutes remaining. There was a nervy final few minutes for Madrid, however, and it took a diving save from Keylor Navas to prevent David Zurutuza from grabbing an injury-time equaliser.
Bale’s 19th goal of the season in the league and his ninth header, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues, decided a tense game at Anoeta against a Sociedad side who had beaten Barcelona earlier in the month.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were still injured for Madrid and, with the Champions League semi-final second leg against Manchester City looming next Wednesday, head coach Zinedine Zidane rested Marcelo, Dani Carvajal, Jese, Pepe and Toni Kroos.
Atletico responded and replaced their city rivals at the summit after another 1-0 win but they were made to work hard for the victory by a stubborn Rayo Vallecano side battling for their lives at the other end of the table.
Diego Simeone, who had to watch from the stands as he served the first of a three-match touchline ban, made seven changes to his starting line-up and it disrupted Atletico’s rhythm.
Koke, Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres were all introduced early in the second half and it proved a master stroke on Simeone’s part as Griezmann immediately pounced on a loose ball, controlling it on his chest before hitting a left-foot shot into the bottom corner of the net from the edge of the box.
In France Lyon and Monaco remain level on points in the race for second place behind Paris Saint-Germain after home victories over Ajaccio and Guingamp.
Rachid Ghezzal scored direct from a corner as second-placed Lyon beat relegation-threatened Ajaccio 2-1, while Monaco survived a late wobble to see off Guingamp 3-2 at home.
Lyon and Monaco have 62 points with two matches left and the former ahead on goal difference before their mouthwatering clash next weekend at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais.
Lyon took control against Ajaccio after 10 minutes when Ghezzal’s corner sneaked past Clement Maury.
The keeper was again at fault 30 minutes later when he failed to deal with Rafael’s sumptuous cross and could only watch Maxwel Cornet touch the ball home at the back post.
Ajaccio’s Gregoire Pujol chipped Anthony Lopes in the 49th minute, three minutes after coming on, but the Lyon goalkeeper preserved the points for his side when he blocked Kevin Mayi’s close-range effort in the 89th minute.
Monaco had slipped up in the race for the second automatic Champions League spot last weekend when they drew 1-1 at Stade Rennes but responded well to beat Guingamp.
They won with goals from Lacina Traore, Nabil Dirar and Bernardo Silva despite letting the visitors back into the match late on.
In Germany Borussia Monchengladbach wrecked Bayern Munich’s party when they hit back for a 1-1 draw, forcing the Bavarians to wait at least another week to clinch a fourth successive Bundesliga title.
Bayern, needing a win to wrap up the title, were made to pay for their complacency as they rotated their team and sat back after Thomas Mueller had given them an early lead.
The 75,000 capacity Allianz Arena crowd, clearly believing the match was a formality after seeing their team win 14 of their previous 15 home league games this season, were stunned when Andre Hahn eqaualised midway through the second half.
Second-placed Borussia Dortmund closed the gap to five points by thrashing VfL Wolfsburg 5-1, helped by two second-half goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Bayern still remain firm favourites with their remaining games away to midtable Ingolstadt and at home to relegated Hanover 96.
Bayern coach Pep Guardiola made eight changes from the side which lost 1-0 at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday with Philipp Lahm, Javi Martinez, David Alaba, Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal and Robert Lewandowksi among the regulars left out.
Even so, Bayern took a sixth-minute lead when Mueller met Joshua Kimmich’s corner with a low header from 10 metres which bounced past several players and went in off the foot of the post.
However, the hosts allowed Gladbach to take the initiative and there were even some whistles from the Allianz Arena crowd as Bayern’s defenders at one point passed the ball among themselves.
Fourth-placed Gladbach, unbeaten in their last four games with Bayern, produced several scares and equalised when Hahn got between the Bayern defence to collect a pass from Lars Stindl, made space and drilled his shot between Manuel Neuer and his near post.
In Italy Udinese’s Serie A status remains in doubt after a resounding 5-1 defeat at the hands of Torino at the Stadio Friuli.
Pontus Jansson climbed highest to head home Gaston Silva’s corner after 25 minutes before Ghanaian midfielder Afriyie Acquah blasted past Zebrette goalkeeper Orestis Kamezis on the stroke of half-time.
Felipe’s looping header pulled one back for Luigi De Canio’s side shortly after the break but Josef Martinez stretched Torino’s advantage five minutes later.
Andrea Belotti slotted home his 12th goal of the campaign before Martinez grabbed his second to complete a comprehensive victory. Defeat leaves Udinese six points above third-bottom Palermo, who have three games to play starting against Sampdoria on Sunday.