Meanwhile Barca won 2-0 (http://bit.ly/1ggbIgz ) over a tougher than expected Real Sociedad who were also unlucky to suffer a pinball score.
The return matches are scheduled for Tuesday (Real v Atletico) and Wednesday (Barca v Real Sociedad) and, barring a truly spectacular couple of results, should certify a clasico final on April 19th.
What is wondrous to watch is the new measured pace of Lionel Messi's play. The diminutive Argentine seems content to glide through matches these days, protecting and saving himself for the summer. It seems that with his team on the way to at least a share of first place in La Liga and a finals place in the Copa he is content to play in second gear until needed. Few clubs in the world have the luxury of winning with a slow-paced superstar on the pitch let alone the luxury of allowing him such a choice. But Barca management is content, Messi seems content, and the club and fans are seeing their team win, so what is the harm, right? Would that Monaco had done the same with Radamel Falcao, right?
Meanwhile, in La Liga, Real Madrid, had interesting matches on back to back outings. First, they were treated to a rough match, again, at Atletico Bilbao, where the ref allowed so many fouls that a silly Cristiano Ronaldo altercation (http://bit.ly/MpDhKX) had to be sanctioned with a red card simply because the ref did not know what had taken place. The following game, a 4-2 home win against Villareal, played without the sanctioned Ronaldo, was a well-played match with pretty goals and a bit less rough play (http://bit.ly/1f57g22).
Atletico's short-lived visit to the summit of the table lasted a week as they fell away to lowly Almeria 0-2 in a match the winning hosts deserved based on their great defensive play. Unfortunately it was two fluky goals (http://bit.ly/NmdZ1k) that sealed Atletico's fate.
On Saturday, the table listed Real at first with 57 points and a +41 goal differential, Atletico with 57 points and a +40 differential, and Barca, with a game in hand, at 54 points but already with a +43 goal differential. With Barca's 4-1 win at Sevilla on Sunday, courtesy of one Cesc Fabregas goal and two Messi goals and an assist, the Catalans are back on top of the standings but tied with Real and Atletico. Their win though adds a bit of distance in the tie breaker category, via a +46 goal differential, should the three teams remain even on points at the season's end.
Messi’s goal, Barca’s second and winning score, merits an extra mention. Playing on a water logged field and receiving a counterattack ball coming on a ground cross from left to right, Messi measured his approach, chipped the ball up and to his left, eluding his marker, and volleyed it with his left into the opposite side of the goal from just left of the half-moon…golazo!