Barcelona took a giant step toward retaining the title in La Liga by beating nearest rival Atletico Madrid 2-0 at the Camp Nou on Saturday. Late goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi opened up an 11-point lead at the top of the table, with Atleti undermined by temperamental striker Diego Costa receiving a red card in the first half.
Earlier, a Karim Benzema double helped Real Madrid beat Eibar and rebound from losing in Valencia on Wednesday. Speaking of Valencia, Los Che suffered a damaging defeat in their pursuit of a top-four finish after losing to relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano.
The day began with Espanyol scoring an impressive win in Girona, with Sergi Darder in fine form.
- Girona 1-2 Espanyol
- Real Madrid 2-1 Eibar
- Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Valencia
- Barcelona 2-0 Atletico Madrid
Costa continued an unwanted trend for Atletico against Barca when he was red-carded after 28 minutes. The 30-year-old was told to walk following a heated verbal exchange with referee Jesus Gil Manzano.
Atleti were down a man but still made life difficult for the hosts. Messi and Co. struggled to get on track against a physical defence, packed midfield and a high-pressing forward line led by Antoine Griezmann.
When Barca did fashion chances, Jan Oblak proved a stubborn figure in the Atletico goal.
Fittingly, it took something spectacular to get past Oblak, and Suarez duly delivered it when he thundered a curled effort in from the edge of the area.
It was left to Messi to wrap up the points with a deftly taken goal four minutes from time.
He wrong-footed Oblak with a cute finish that makes another title win close to inevitable for the Blaugrana.
Real needed Benzema after Marc Cardona had given Eibar the lead six minutes before the break at the Santiago Bernabeu. Fortunately, Benzema has seized the role of Los Blancos' attacking talisman since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus last summer.
The Frenchman drew the hosts level just before the hour mark. Then the former Lyon ace won it nine minutes from time.
While Benzema is thriving, Gareth Bale is looking like an increasingly forlorn figure in the Spanish capital. The home supporters haven't been shy about chiding the 29-year-old whenever he makes a mistake.
Bale hasn't managed to fill Ronaldo's shoes, and the absence of another dependable match-winner to support Benzema will continue to blight manager Zinedine Zidane's efforts to return Real to the success of recent seasons.
Valencia appeared on the way to at least a taste or former glories after brushing Real aside earlier in the week. However, Rayo burst the bubble thanks to goals from Raul de Tomas and Mario Suarez.
Rayo are still fighting for survival but have closed the gap on Villarreal to just three points. The Yellow Submarine can create a bigger cushion with a win away to Real Betis on Sunday.
Darder sent Espanyol on the way to victory when he finished smartly on 59 minutes in Girona. Cristhian Stuani equalised from the penalty spot, but Girona were denied a share of the points when goalkeeper Yassine Bounou put into his own net in the penultimate minute.