Real Madrid’s run of wins came to an end on Saturday when they were held to a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu by city rivals Atletico, allowing Barcelona to extend their lead at the top to six points. After two successive defeats Barcelona got back on track with a 2-0 home win over Athletic Bilbao to stretch their advantage over Real by two points.
Real had won ten straight league games to cut Barcelona’s advantage from 12 points to four in just three games and were hoping to put wind in their sails for Tuesday’s Champions League showdown with Liverpool at Anfield, a match in which they trail 1-0 from the first leg. Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan put Atletico ahead on 38 minutes with his 18th goal of the season but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – cup-tied for the Champions League – equalised after 57 minutes.
“We are six points behind now but it is not insurmountable,” said Real coach Juande Ramos. “It is just two games and Barcelona still have to come to the Bernabeu.”
The draw meant Atletico’s derby hoodoo continues and they have not beaten Real since a 3-1 win back in 1999. Atletico felt hard done by against Real and striker Sergio “Kun” Aguero vented his frustration at not being awarded a late penalty claiming the referee took the easy way out.
“It was a penalty,” fumed Aguero. “It was the final incident in the game but you aren’t going to get a penalty in the dying minutes at the Bernabeu. I looked at the clock and there was a minute left and he (the referee) wasn’t going to give it.”
Atletico fall five points behind fourth-placed Villarreal who defeated Espanyol 1-0 on Saturday. Luis Garcia missed a penalty for struggling Espanyol and Villarreal held on to their slender advantage to close to within two points of Sevilla in third.
The Atletico point was good news for Barcelona who capitalised with victory over Bilbao in a match-up between this season’s two Kings Cup finalists. Sergi Busquets, 20, scored his first goal for the club using his 6ft 2in frame to head home before Lionel Messi converted a penalty to take his season’s tally to 18 goals.
“We just have to worry what we are doing and not talk about Real Madrid, only Barcelona,” explained Barcelona strikerSamuel Eto’o. “Are we back to our best? Well we won and kept a clean sheet which is great but to be honest we were playing well before. However, we were conceding goals and drawing or losing the games.”
It was a crucial win for Barcelona and their next task is at home to Lyon in the Champions League on Wednesday with the tie 1-1 after the first leg.