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Rediff.com  » Sports » La Liga PHOTOS: Barcelona reclaim top spot; Atletico salvage draw at Girona

La Liga PHOTOS: Barcelona reclaim top spot; Atletico salvage draw at Girona

Last updated on: December 03, 2018 18:23 IST

IMAGE: Carles Alena, left, celebrates with his team mates after scoring Barcelona's second goal. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

Champions Barcelona reclaimed top spot in La Liga on Sunday by overcoming a dogged Villarreal side to win 2-0 at home with goals from stalwart defender Gerard Pique and youngster Carles Alena taking them above Sevilla.

Pique headed the Catalans in front in the 36th minute, connecting with a cross from the lively Ousmane Dembele who produced another decisive display after scoring Barca's late equaliser against Atletico Madrid last week.

 

Villarreal are hovering above the relegation zone but they produced an admirable display and nearly took the lead when Gerard Moreno seized on a mix-up between goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and defender Clement Lenglet but was able only to strike the outside of the near post.

Homegrown midfielder Alena, 20, came off the bench to score his first league goal for Barca in the 87th minute and seal the win, racing on to a through ball from Lionel Messi and producing a confident finish.

"We completely dominated the play in the first half despite them hitting the post but we lacked a bit of dynamism in the area but we were rewarded with Pique's goal," Barca coach Ernesto Valverde told reporters.

"In the second half, we lacked the ball and when that happens, we suffer a lot. We gave little away because we were organised but we do not feel comfortable playing that way."

IMAGE: Gerard Pique scores the first goal for Barcelona. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

Barca lead the standings with 28 points after 14 games, while Sevilla are second on 27 after drawing 1-1 at Alaves. Atletico Madrid are third on 25 after being held to a 1-1 draw at Girona.

Barca had dropped off the top of the table following last week's 1-1 stalemate at Atletico in which they had struggled for creativity.

They lacked a spark against Villarreal too, badly missing the control that injured midfielder Arthur Melo has provided in recent weeks.

Record signing Philippe Coutinho struggled to make an impact and was booed by an impatient Nou Camp crowd when he was substituted in the second half, while fans also showed their discontent when Valverde took off Arturo Vidal for Alena.

Alena had made only one league appearance this season after being promoted from the club's reserve team but he eventually lifted the mood by producing the lethal blow to Villarreal, who had deprived Barca of the ball for much of the second period while rarely troubling Ter Stegen.

Sevilla surrender La Liga lead to Barca after Alaves draw

Sevilla slipped off the top of La Liga on Sunday as they could only draw 1-1 at Alaves, whose comfortable protection of their unbeaten home record allowed champions Barcelona to climb back to the league's summit.

Alaves' winger Jony slammed the ball into the roof of the net from close range to give them the lead in the 37th minute, despite protests from Sevilla that Jonathan Calleri was in an offside position when he provided the cross for the goal.

Home goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco made a fine save to prevent Franco Vazquez equalising soon after the break but could not stop Wissam Ben Yedder's 78th minute equaliser, as the Frenchman nipped in behind the defence to turn in Pablo Sarabia's cross.

It meant Alaves, who beat European champions Real Madrid 1-0 at their Mendizorrotza stadium earlier in the campaign, and Atletico Madrid remain the only teams yet to lose at home in the league this season.

The Basque side resisted Sevilla's attempts to grab a late winner with some ease and almost won themselves when Darko Brasanac headed against the post and keeper Tomas Vaclik nearly pushed the ball over the line before finally grabbing hold.

Sevilla slid down to second place in the standings on 27 points after 14 games, one behind leaders Barca. Atletico Madrid are third on 25, while Alaves are fourth with 24, one point above fifth-placed Real Madrid.

Atletico salvage draw at Girona with own goal

Atletico Madrid's La Liga title ambitions suffered a setback on Sunday when they drew 1-1 away at Girona, averting a first league defeat since September only thanks to a late own goal by Jonas Ramalho.

Atletico's Saul Niguez struck the underside of the bar as the visitors enjoyed the better first-half chances but they fell behind on the stroke of halftime when top scorer Cristhian Stuani converted a penalty.

The spot kick was awarded with the help of the video assistant referee after Stuani himself had been tripped by goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

Girona's substitute keeper Gorka Iraizoz made a stunning save to thwart Saul in the second half but Diego Simeone's side levelled in the 83rd minute.

Diego Costa burst forward to control a long ball and Ramalho's attempt to clear saw him instead divert it into his own net.

The draw, Atletico's seventh stalemate of the season, left Diego Simeone's side third in the standings on 25 points, three behind leaders Barcelona, who beat Villarreal 2-0, and two behind second-placed Sevilla who drew 1-1 at Alaves.

"This league is very exciting, anyone can beat anyone and that's what makes football so great, getting to the weekend and not knowing which team is going to take the three points," said Atletico defender Lucas Hernandez.

"We have to keep working and improving so that we can get the three points each week. Today I think we played very well, Girona barely created a chance and we deserved to win. It wasn't to be, but at least we managed to get the draw."

Atletico's Costa to undergo surgery in Brazil

Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa faces a long spell on the sidelines after the La Liga club said on Monday he has taken the decision to undergo surgery in his home country of Brazil to treat a chronic foot injury.

"Diego Costa will undergo surgery this week owing to discomfort he has been suffering in his left foot in the last few weeks," read a statement from Atletico.

"After evaluating different options, it has been decided that the operation will take place in Brazil, where he will be supervised by Atletico's medical staff.

"The player, who was operated on the fifth metatarsal on his left foot 12 years ago, has been suffering from discomfort following a knock he received some weeks ago."

Atletico did not state how long Costa would be out for, although Spanish media reports indicated he would not be able to return until early February, in time for the city derby against Real Madrid and the last 16 of the Champions League.

Costa has struggled for form this season, his first full campaign since returning to action for Atletico last January after re-signing for the club from Chelsea.

He has only scored one goal in 11 league starts although he played through the pain to produce an impressive display in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Girona, playing a huge role in his side's equaliser, an own goal from Girona defender Jonas Ramalho.

"This was Costa in his pure state, he is making a huge effort and he gave his life in every single play," said Atletico coach Diego Simeone, whose side are third in La Liga, three points behind leaders Barcelona.

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