Hosts Atletico Madrid beat Real Sociedad 4-0 tonight to reach the top of the La Liga table with 57 points. Real Madrid, who dropped two golden points away at San Mames Stadium when it tied Athletic Bilbao 1-1, failed to make much headway on Barcelona FC who had lost 2-3 at home to Valencia yesterday. Real and Barca are tied for second place at 54 points.
The three decisive games could not have been any more different save the intensity and questionable officiating all shared. Barcelona seemed ready to win again at home when Alexis Sanchez scored at the seventh minute (http://bit.ly/1kAc6cA) only to have Valencia tie at the 44th courtesy of Dani Parejo. Three minutes into the second half the visitors pulled ahead via Pablo Piatti, only to have Lionel Messi tie the game off a penalty on the strike of 54 minutes. But the tie was short-lived as Pablo Alcacer broke it at the 59th for what would be the final score line.
Barcelona, had been in a tough 7-yellow-card tussle with Valencia and ended up playing the last 12 minutes plus stoppage time a player short as Jordi Alba’s second yellow saw him off the pitch at the 78th. But as we mentioned before (http://exm.nr/1blazUM) the top La Liga teams all seem to have hit the pause button at this stage in domestic play and this time the malaise came at the wrong time for the table who lost their top spot. The officiating was poor again as a game that was played with high intensity and fouls galore saw the first yellow given out only at the 45th minute. Clearly a few early cards would have stopped the rough style of play that ruled the day.
Atletico led their game from beginning to end today and showed why they are playing—relatively—the best football in the league at this time (http://bit.ly/1j3HzG0). The game was a tough contest with a yellow card awarded 17 minutes in, three yellows awarded before the 40th minute, and the last yellow of the match awarded at the 84th minute. But the hosts were able to shrug off their sluggishness and scored at the 38' (David Villa), 72' (Diego Costa), 74' (Miranda) and 87’ (Diego) to salt the win away and capture a deserved first place.
At San Mames the stage was set early and the drama unfolded as scripted. Real Madrid always has a tough time with Athletic Bilbao and today was no exception (http://bit.ly/1bSp1AJ). The host revel in playing their most aggressive football whenever the merengues come to town and this match was intense and rough from the get go. Unfortunately the gamesmanship the hosts displayed was so well orchestrated that it overwhelmed the officials. Those tasked with controlling the game were simply outsmarted by the Bilbao players to the point that at a silly series of altercations between the repeatedly fouled Cristiano Ronaldo and the entire Bilbao defense ended with the lone Ronaldo getting a red card.
The game was swinging toward Real after a scoreless half when a breakaway down the left saw Ronaldo cross to a sliding Jese who put the visitors ahead at the 65th. But at the 73rd minute Ibai Gomez came in for Iker Muniain and volleyed his first touch off the post and into the back of the net for the game’s tying goal. Two minutes later Ronaldo was given his marching papers and his deflated Real teammates simply could not cope.
In a very bizarre La Liga spell all bets seem to be off as both Barca and Real will undoubtedly pull out all the stops for the remainder of the domestic league, while Atletico will have their first taste of being at the top with their Copa del Rey run in with Real at midweek.