Neymar, Messi, Bale and Ronaldo Watch: Barca Lose Again as Madrid Move Clear

Samuel MarsdenFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2014

Real's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Levante at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Lionel Messi and Neymar fired blanks as Barcelona’s title challenge was dealt a further blow at Real Valladolid on Saturday afternoon.

Fausto Rossi gave the hosts a first-half lead, and neither of Barca’s South American stars could find a way through the home side’s defence in the 72 minutes that followed at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla.

It wasn’t for lack of trying on Messi’s part, though.

The Argentine racked up five shots throughout the match—all of which were on target—but found a worthy opponent in Valladolid goaltender Diego Marino.

Israel L. Murillo/Associated Press

Several times, he made saves when Messi looked certain to score—once in the first half, when Barca’s No. 10 raced clean through, and then in the second period, when he beat away an effort at the near post.

He couldn’t even bank on his free-kicks to save a point for Gerardo Martino’s faltering Catalans, as Marino twice saved set pieces that were straight at him.

After a six-game scoring streak, Messi just couldn’t score.

But if the majority of chances fell to Messi, it was his Brazilian colleague who will feel the guiltiest about Barca’s inability to break down Valladolid.

The ball was worked neatly—if a little fortuitously—across the host’s box, arriving at the feet of Neymar on the edge of the six-yard box. Rather than hitting the target, though, he leaned back and blazed what was probably his side’s best chance over the bar.

As has been the norm since the turn of the year, Real Madrid didn’t have as many problems converting their chances when they welcomed Levante to the Bernabeu on Sunday.

It took Cristiano Ronaldo just over 10 minutes to open the scoring for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

He’d already stung the gloves of the impressive Keylor Navas with an ambitious volley when he rose highest to head in an Angel di Maria corner and opened the scoring. The height he achieved conjured memories of his goal against Manchester United last season.

Meanwhile, Gareth Bale was looking quiet on the other side of Madrid's three-pronged attack.

Viewers of the match may be surprised to read WhoScored confirmed he had five shots on target—they’ll be less surprised to hear that all five failed to register on target.

But while Bale toiled, Ronaldo turned provider at the beginning of the second half.

The Portuguese international raced down the left, creating space inside him and rolled the ball to Marcelo, who dummied the ball and curled a fantastic shot into the corner of Navas’ goal to kill the game.

Madrid, notably Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, had many chances to score, but as Ancelotti was keen to point out during the post-match press conference: “Navas had a fantastic match.”

Los Blancos are now three points clear at the top and a further point ahead of Barcelona.

They are also unbeaten in 29 games in all competitions. Ronaldo’s recent three-match ban is looking more and more like a helpful break than an unnecessary hindrance—Barca are going to have to hope Messi and Neymar can fire them back into title contention.