Barcelona moved closer to being crowned champions of La Liga again after beating Real Sociedad 2-1 at the Camp Nou on Saturday night. Lionel Messi assisted Jordi Alba's winning goal as Barca maintained a nine-point lead over Atletico Madrid with five matches remaining.
Atleti can at least take consolation from sealing a place in next season's UEFA Champions League. A 1-0 win in Eibar was enough for Atleti to make sure of a return to Europe's premier club competition.
There was also change at the other end of the table, where Celta Vigo climbed out of the bottom three by beating Girona. Meanwhile, a goalless draw did little to improve the survival prospects of Huesca and Rayo Vallecano.
- Celta Vigo 2-1 Girona
- Eibar 0-1 Atletico Madrid
- Rayo Vallecano 0-0 Huesca
- Barcelona 2-1 Real Sociedad
Barca were pushed all the way by a Sociedad team in the mood to get forward and pressure the would-be champions high up the pitch. The visitors might well have gone in front had Willian Jose not missed an excellent chance after a point-blank save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Ter Stegen's efforts were rewarded when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana into the lead on the stroke of halftime. Sociedad refused to cave, though, and were level two minutes after the hour mark when Juanmi got his foot to an excellent pass from former Newcastle United playmaker Mikel Merino:
The warning signs had been there, with Ter Stegen forced into another smart save to deny Ruben Pardo. Barca didn't stay rocked for long, and Messi exerted his influence by releasing Alba in behind.
Alba angled a low shot into the bottom corner via his weaker foot to give the hosts the lead again. Goal contributions continue to be central to the former Valencia left-back's game:
Similarly, setting up goals is a facet of the game Messi excels in almost as much as he does finding the net himself:
Barca had work to do to see the game out, but the introduction of Philippe Coutinho off the bench helped manager Ernesto Valverde's team keep the ball away from the visitors, who still had the capability to cause problems.
Things were just as close for Atletico earlier in the day. Fortunately, a rock-solid defence was able to hold off Eibar despite Joan Jordan impressing from midfield.
Atletico's long-established resolve at the back can often make people forget about the ample attacking quality in manager Diego Simeone's squad. He brought Thomas Lemar off the bench 10 minutes after the restart, and the Frenchman repaid him with a clutch late goal.
Strength in depth like this is why Atleti are returning to the Champions League and why the club should hold off neighbours Real Madrid and end the league campaign as runners-up.
While Atletico can turn to a host of match-winners, Celta know their fortunes rest squarely on the performances of Iago Aspas. The skipper scored and assisted to help put Girona to the sword.
Aspas put Celta in front on 34 minutes, but Girona were level three minutes after the restart thanks to Portu.
It looked like a damaging day for Celta's bid for survival, but Aspas got free again and released Sofiane Boufal. The Southampton loanee made the most of the opportunity by curling in a spectacular winner:
While Celta now have a three-point cushion above the drop zone, Vallecano and Huesca remain in the bottom three. The stalemate means relegation still seems inevitable for both.