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Rediff.com  » Sports » Fooball Briefs: Barca move closer to title

Fooball Briefs: Barca move closer to title

April 15, 2018 12:03 IST

Lionel Messi

IMAGE: Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their second goal with Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele.Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters.

Barcelona responded to the shock of being eliminated from the Champions League by AS Roma by beating Valencia 2-1 on Saturday at the Nou Camp, setting a Liga record run of 39 games unbeaten and taking them ever closer to another title.

 

Luis Suarez gave Barca the lead after 15 minutes, meeting a delicious outside-of-the-foot pass from former Liverpool team mate Philippe Coutinho and scoring with one touch from close range.

Club-record signing Coutinho then delivered an outswinging corner from which Samuel Umtiti headed in Barca's second in the 51st minute, shortly after Gerard Pique had saved Umtiti's blushes by clearing a shot from Valencia forward Santi Mina off the line following a slip by the France defender.

Captain Dani Parejo pulled back a goal for third-placed Valencia by squeezing an 87th-minute penalty under Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but the Catalans withstood an exciting final spell to move to within seven points of their 25th league title.

Ernesto Valverde's side lead nearest challengers Atletico Madrid by 14 points in the standings, with Atletico hosting Levante and fourth-placed Real visiting basement club Malaga on Sunday.

The Barca coach praised his players for putting the Roma defeat behind them but said their European exit had punctured their enthusiasm for the unbeaten record.

"This wasn’t a week to think about records, we don’t give it too much importance. It was more important that we picked ourselves up after a difficult week," Valverde told a news conference.

"It's normal that these players keep on breaking records. But it was a fundamental win in many ways. First of all, I am happy with the three points. We needed 10 points to win league, now it’s seven."

With heavy rain falling in the city all day, 30,000 seats at the 99,000-capacity Nou Camp were unoccupied and even when Suarez provided a slick finishing touch to Coutinho's wonderful pass, celebrations were muted.

Valencia had made a good start and winger Goncalo Guedes hammered an early shot at Ter Stegen, who made another impressive save to thwart the Portuguese later in the half after Gerard Pique had surrendered the ball.

The German goalkeeper ran himself into trouble as he sent a pass straight at the feet of Valencia forward Rodrigo but redeemed himself by tipping the shot on to the crossbar and behind.

Lionel Messi was inactive for much of the first half but grew into the game in the second, narrowly volleying over the bar and fizzing a shot just wide after tearing through the Valencia defence.

"The atmosphere around the club this week has been a bit gloomy and we needed to put the brakes on that so I have to congratulate the players because it’s not been easy," added Valverde.

"The sensation is that we have failed, that we have disappointed the supporters but we have to look forward and not lose sight of what we can still achieve this season."

Villarreal and Sevilla missed the chance to put pressure on fifth-placed Real Betis as they drew a thrilling game 2-2 at a sun-drenched Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, which saw a player from each side sent off and a missed penalty.

Sevilla had exited the Champions League in midweek to Bayern Munich and things got worse as Dani Raba and Carlos Bacca scored either side of the interval for Villarreal and Wissan Ben Yedder was sent off.

Jaume Costa was later dismissed for the visitors after conceding a penalty which Nolito squandered but the forward scored two minutes later and Steven Nzonzi buried an equaliser from long range in the 82nd.

Villarreal are sixth on 48 points, Sevilla are seventh on 47, with Betis fifth on 52 after winning 1-0 at Girona on Friday.

Inter Champions League hopes dented in goalless draw with Atalanta

Inter Milan's Champions League qualification hopes suffered a setback on Saturday when they were held to a scoreless draw by Atalanta in their Serie A clash.

With runaway leaders Juventus on 81 points and Napoli second on 77, Inter, Roma and Lazio -- with 60 points each ahead of the Rome derby on Sunday night -- are locked in a three-way battle for the last two Champions League spots.

Gambian teenager Musa Barrow lit up the first half for Atalanta with his electric pace and unpredictable movement, but he was withdrawn at halftime and replaced by Danish striker Andreas Cornelius, who could not offer the same threat.

In Barrow's absence, Inter improved drastically, but despite the best efforts of Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic, they could not break the deadlock and instead extended their run of Serie A games without a goal or win to three.

Volland treble helps Leverkusen to 4-1 win over Eintracht

Bayer Leverkusen's Kevin Volland grabbed his first Bundesliga hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, fellow rivals for a Champions League spot, as they tightened their grip on fourth place on Saturday.

The 25-year-old forward charged through in the 71st minute to put Leverkusen 2-1 in front after Julian Brandt had fired the hosts ahead in the 20th only for Marco Fabian to draw Frankfurt level three minutes later.

Volland, with only an outside chance of earning a place in Germany's World Cup squad, scored again six minutes later with an easy tap-in and completed his treble with an almost identical goal two minutes from time for his 14th league goal this season.

It was a bitter defeat for Frankfurt coach Niko Kovac the day after it was announced that he will join Bayern Munich next season, as his club slipped to sixth, five points behind Leverkusen who have 51, with four games left.

The top four clubs qualify for next season's lucrative Champions League group stage.

Treble-chasing Bayern Munich, who secured their sixth straight Bundesliga title last week, crushed Borussia Moenchengladbach 5-1 after falling behind to a Josip Drmic goal in the ninth minute.

Bayern have their eyes firmly on next week's German Cup semi-final against Leverkusen and the looming Champions League last-four clash with Real Madrid but their second-string team had no trouble against Gladbach.

Sandro Wagner scored twice and Thiago Alcantara and David Alaba also got on to the scoresheet before second-half substitute Robert Lewandowski grabbed his 27th Bundesliga goal to stay top of the scorers' chart.

Schalke 04, on 52 points, and Borussia Dortmund, a point behind them in third, will battle it out for second place when they meet in the Ruhr valley derby on Sunday.

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