Sunday, April 9, 2017
Neymar sees red as Barca let Real Madrid off hook
MADRID, Spain -- Neymar was sent-off as Barcelona lost further ground on Real Madrid at the top of La Liga in a shock 2-0 defeat to Malaga on Saturday.
Real are now three points clear and have a game in hand despite Antoine Griezmann's classy finish five minutes from time snatching a 1-1 draw for Atletico Madrid earlier at the Santiago Bernabeu.
However, Real can now afford to lose to Barca at home in two weeks' time and still have a first title in five years in their own hands.
"No matter what the table is like Madrid-Barca is always an attractive game, but winning La Liga depends on winning all the points beforehand," said Barca boss Luis Enrique.
"Today we had a very good opportunity and we couldn't take the points."
Neymar picked up the first red card of his Barcelona career for two bookable offences as the Catalans were left to rue letting Sandro Ramirez join Malaga for free last summer.
Sandro exposed some awful defending from Jeremy Mathieu to sprint clear on goal and slot past Marc-Andre ter Stegen at his near post.
Malaga also had the better chances of the second-half filled with controversy as Juanpi shot straight at Ter Stegen when clean through.
Neymar had been shown his first booking for delaying a Malaga free-kick whilst tying his shoelaces and stupidly charged into Diego Llorente 25 minutes from time to see red.
The hosts then had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside when substitute Adalberto Penaranda finished off a flowing counter-attack.
However, Barca were also infuriated with referee Gil Manzano when he somehow awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box when Sergi Roberto had been brought down clearly inside the area.
Malaga finally picked off the 10 men in the final minute when Pablo Fornals unselfishly squared for Jony to smash home from close range.
-- Real let-off --
Barca's defeat meant Real's disappointment earlier in the day was short lived.
Pepe's towering header early in the second half looked to have Real heading five points clear at the top in the Madrid derby.
However, Griezmann rounded Keylor Navas to slot home at the near post five minutes from time.
"It is a draw but we've lost two points. Clearly we deserved all three points today," said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
"We played very well, but we lacked the second goal that would have allowed us to relax."
After a slow start, Real took control of the game as the first half wore on and only two stunning stops prevented Zidane's men from taking a half-time lead.
Firstly, Jan Oblak tipped over Karim Benzema's effort after a neat one-two with Ronaldo had freed the Frenchman inside the box.
Moments later Cristiano Ronaldo couldn't believe his eyes when his fierce goal-bound effort was turned to safety by Stefan Savic's incredible headed clearance from under his own crossbar.
Real started the second half with intent as Ronaldo headed just wide before Oblak had to rush from his goal to block Benzema's volley from point-blank range.
The European champions finally made the breakthrough seven minutes into the second period when Pepe rose highest in a crowded penalty area from Toni Kroos's free-kick to power a header into the far corner.
However, Atletico responded to falling behind and should have been level on the hour mark when Yannick Carrasco played in Fernando Torres clear on goal.
The former Spanish international failed to finish, though, as he fired straight at the onrushing Navas.
Navas has faced a barrage of criticsm this season, but he made another smart stop to deny Griezmann levelling with an outrageous overhead kick attempt.
The French international wasn't to be denied from an excellent through ball from Angel Correa with five minutes remaining, however, as he coolly fired past the advancing Navas at the near post for his 23rd goal of the season.
"We know we are a strong team with an incredible mentality," Griezmann told Spanish TV station Movistar.
"I could see my teammates had confidence, desire and the truth is we played a great game."