Barcelona are two games from winning La Liga after beating Real Betis 2-0 but far from bursting through the tape they are stumbling over the finishing line.
For 35 minutes they were frustrated by the home team whose supporters taunted the faltering leaders with chants of ‘Atletico Madrid’. Diego Simeone’s side were top when this game kicked off after beating Rayo Vallecano but once again find themselves trailing Barça on head-to-head goal difference, now with two games left to play.
Luis Enrique’s side had two gifts fall into their laps in the space of ten minutes. The first was a clumsy challenge from Heiko Westermann earning him a red card, and the second a howler from former Real Madrid goalkeeper Antonio Adan who had promised to do his old team a favour in midweek by as he put it: ‘f****** the league for Barça’. He had instead helped secure them three precious points. He should not take all the blame, defender Germán Pezzella was equally culpable for what was a comical goal.
Luis Suarez made sure of the victory with his ninth goal in the league in three games. He now has 35 in La Liga, 54 in all competitions, and the strike meant the Suarez, Messi and Neymar front three have now beaten last season’s 122 goals tally. They have scored 123 this season but would have dried up almost completely were it not for the Uruguayan.
It was that first half red that changed things though. Westermann, who had already been booked, clumsily chopped down Ivan Rakitic leaving the referee Mateu Lahoz no choice but to reach into his pocket and send him off.
Gift number two was even more important and rather than fall into Barcelona’s lap it fell at Rakitc’s feet. On minute 50 Messi lofted a pass into the area which Betis should have cleared without a problem. Instead both defender Pezzella and goalkeeper Adan launched themselves at the ball, passing each other in midair – neither making contact with it, and allowing it to fall perfectly to Rakitic to finish into the empty net.
There were huge sighs of relief from Barcelona supporters and groans from the capital as the Madrid teams found themselves second and third in the league once more.