Barcelona on brink of Liga title after Real Madrid draw
VALENCIA: Barcelona are just one win away from a 23rd La Liga title after Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty in Real Madrid’s 2-2 draw at home to Valencia on Saturday.
The league leaders are four points clear with two games to play after earlier claiming a comfortable 2-0 win over David Moyes’s Real Sociedad thanks to goals from Neymar and Pedro Rodriguez.
Barcelona can now seal the title when they travel to reigning champions Atletico Madrid next Sunday should a potential players’ strike due for the weekend be called off.
First-half goals from Paco Alcacer and Javi Fuego gave Valencia a commanding half-time lead.
However, despite goalkeeper Diego Alves denying Ronaldo from the spot just before the break, Madrid roared back in the second-half to earn a point thanks to goals from Pepe and Isco.
“There are two games to go, we need to win them, but obviously it is more difficult (to win the league),” admitted Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti.
However, the Italian refuted suggestions the result could be a blow to his side’s confidence ahead of their crucial Champions League semi-final, second-leg against Juventus on Wednesday.
“The result isn’t good, but the performance was the complete opposite. We have a lot of chances, hit the post three times, missed a penalty, sometimes it just isn’t enough.
“We have a lot of positives from the game and if we play like that on Wednesday it will go well.”
Alcacer wasted a big early chance when he spooned over when clean through on Iker Casillas, while at the other end Gareth Bale saw a brilliant free-kick come back off the bar.
Ronaldo then also sent a header come off the frame of the goal, but it was Valencia who opened the scoring when Madrid-target Jose Gaya’s excellent low cross was turned home by Alcacer.
Madrid suffered a huge injury blow ahead of the Juventus clash as Toni Kroos limped off to be replaced by Asier Illarramendi.
Seconds later it was 2-0 as Dani Parejo’s free-kick was brilliantly guided into the far corner by Javi Fuego.
Alves then made an incredible save from a Bale piledriver before the Welshman teed up Javier Hernandez to hit the woodwork for the third time in the half.
Madrid looked to have been handed a route back into the game when Gaya bundled Bale over inside the area on the stroke of half-time.
But Alves continued his excellent record of saving penalties by flying to his right to deny the Portuguese.
Alves made two more excellent stops to deny Hernandez at the start of the second period, but he was finally beaten by Pepe’s towering header from James Rodriguez’s corner.
The Valencia goalkeeper came to his side’s rescue once more with a stunning save from Sergio Ramos’s header.
However, he was left helpless as Isco’s stunning curling effort into the top corner with eight minutes to go gave Madrid hope.
Despite a late onslaught, though, Carlo Ancelotti’s men couldn’t find a late winner and now need a monumental collapse from Barca to have any shot at the title.
At the Camp Nou, Pedro Rodriguez scored a stunning overhead kick as Barcelona recorded their 28th win in 30 matches since being beaten by Sociedad back in January.
“We did everything to score and in the end the goals arrived,” said Neymar, whose goal was his 50th for the Catalans.
“We have played a lot of big games recently in which you have to make a big effort and Sociedad are a difficult team to play against.”
Sociedad goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli kept the visitors in the game during the first-half with saves from Lionel Messi, Neymar and Gerard Pique, but he was finally beaten when Neymar headed home the opener early in the second-half.
And Pedro, who has seen his opportunities limited by the sensational form of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez this season, secured all three points with a brilliant acrobatic effort five minutes from time. (AFP)