Lionel Messi endured a miserable game when Barcelona were beaten 2-0 by Real Madrid in El Clasico on Sunday night. Victory took Real back to the top of La Liga, with Messi's lengthy goal drought away from home continuing.
Goals from Vinicius Junior and substitute Mariano Diaz proved decisive for Real, but it was Thibaut Courtois who was a standout between the posts. The former Chelsea goalkeeper had a string of fine saves, particularly during the first half.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid's chances of qualifying for next season's UEFA Champions League took a hit after a 1-1 draw away to bottom-of-the-table Espanyol. The stalemate has led to Atleti crashing out of the top four.
Dropped points were compounded by both Sevilla and Getafe winning. The latter are continuing to punch above their weight in fourth after a 1-0 win away to Real Mallorca.
A place in Europe next season, maybe even at the continent's top table, is now a realistic possibility for Jose Bordalas' team.
- Sevilla 3-2 Osasuna
- Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Villarreal
- Espanyol 1-1 Atletico Madrid
- Real Mallorca 0-1 Getafe
- Real Madrid 2-0 Barcelona
Winner: Thibaut Courtois
There was something fitting about Courtois thriving on a day when David De Gea struggled. The Manchester United stopper made an error to gift Everton a goal during a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.
It was symptomatic of the decline in De Gea's game since the peak of Real's interest in the Red Devils' No. 1. Real ended up with Courtois in 2018, and the move initially looked like a poor consolation prize.
Things have changed since, with Keylor Navas' switch to Paris Saint-Germain last summer showing Courtois how much faith Real have in him. He's been repaying the faith with a bounce-back campaign filled with star turns like the one the Belgian produced to frustrate Messi and Co. at the Santiago Bernabeu.
He stood tall to deny Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Arthur Melo during a first half defined by sustained pressure from the visitors:
Things didn't always go Courtois' way last term, but the 27-year-old has now become one of the cornerstones of Zinedine Zidane's squad.
Loser: Lionel Messi
Courtois' claim Real scouted Messi the same "as we study a player from Celta Vigo or Levante," per Metro, looked foolhardy at the time. However, Messi was indeed a shadow of himself while drawing a blank for the second time this season against Barca's bitter rival:
Messi struggled to get up to speed with the pace of the game. His touch uncharacteristically let him down more than once, while the burst of pace and power critical to his style of play rarely materialised.
The clearest sign of a slower Messi came when Real left-back Marcelo got back to tackle the Argentinian when he seemed set to score and equalise Real's opener. Peak Messi would never have been caught without getting his shot off.
He's now failed to score away from home in the Spanish top flight since the 1-0 win over Atletico on December 1. Barca's attacking talisman has also only managed to proffer three league goals on his travels.
Messi showing signs of decline is a problem for a Barca squad still overly reliant on the 32-year-old for inspiration. Luis Suarez's injury has increased the onus on the prolific No. 10, while summer arrival Griezmann remains inconsistent.
Barca boss Quique Setien needs a player like Griezmann to step out of Messi's shadow and give this team another way to undermine top-level opponents.
Winner: Getafe's Champions League Hopes
Eliminating Ajax from the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday proved Getafe are ready for the big time. Bordalas' well-drilled defence frustrated last season's Champions League semi-finalists and repeated the feat in Mallorca.
Keeping Mallorca's danger men in check owed a lot to the aggression and athleticism Getafe's back line is built upon. Centre-back Djene Dakonam is a budding star, while there is ample protection from a midfield underpinned by Mauro Arambarri.
The Uruguayan's partner in the engine room, Nemanja Maksimovic, tends to offer more going forward. He was the match-winner on Sunday, finding the net on 67 minutes to keep alive a streak of producing the decisive finishes for a pragmatic team mastering efficiency:
This is a squad with a formula for grinding out results and the resilience to avoid being broken down easily. Those qualities can prove decisive in the race for a Champions League spot.
If Bordalas' players make it, few of the continent's heavyweights will relish facing them.
Loser: Atletico Madrid's Champions League Qualification Chances
While Getafe are trending up in the Champions League race, Atletico are in a genuine scrap just to stay relevant. Diego Simeone's side are only a single point away from fourth, but results and performances have been a long way from the standards previously set.
Sunday's stalemate was the latest hint of a team in decline. It took Jan Oblak's heroic display between the posts to prevent the division's cellar-dwellers adding to Stefan Savic's 24th-minute own goal.
If there is one bright spot for Atleti, it's the form of box-to-box midfielder Saul Niguez. He scored his second goal in three matches in all competitions to earn a point.
Take Saul's industry and guile away, though, and this is a group shorn of flair. Alvaro Morata is still inconsistent in front of goal, while Diego Costa has lost the spark that helped him terrorise defences during his first spell with the club.
With record-signing Joao Felix injured and Thomas Lemar struggling, Atletico don't have the ingenuity to unlock deep-lying defences. This is now a plodding, workmanlike team needing to make a 1-0 first-leg lead over Liverpool in the last 16 count to stay in a Champions League tournament Simeone's men could well be watching from home next season.