Barcelona beat Villarreal on Saturday to open up an eight-point lead in La Liga after Real Madrid lost 1-0 at home to Sporting Gijon.
A 79th-minute goal from Miguel de las Cuevas helped Sporting register an unlikely upset over second-placed Real at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Shorn of key men Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema, the hosts were reduced to a handful of half-chances from Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil and Argentina forward Angel Di Maria.
Striker Gonzalo Higuain nearly scored after coming off the bench in his first appearance following a four-month absence through injury.
But it was left to former Atletico Madrid man de las Cuevas to snatch a late winner for Sporting and deal a major blow to Real’s title ambitions.
It was Real coach Jose Mourinho’s first league defeat in charge of a home team for just over nine years and also the capital city club’s first home defeat of the season in any competiton.
Defending champions Barca duly took advantage, despite being made to work by Villarreal.
They eventually edged a tight encounter in the Estadio El Madrigal 1-0, courtesy of Gerard Pique’s 66th-minute strike.
With Lionel Messi starting on the bench under an injury cloud, the visitors struggled to breakdown Villarreal, who went close on several occasions through Italy striker Giuseppe Rossi.
Xavi Hernandez had an effort tipped over the bar in one of Barca’s few clear-cut chances, before Messi was introduced on 52 minutes.
But it was Brazilian Dani Alves rather than Argentine superstar Messi who finally crafted the breakthrough.
Finding space on the right, Alves sent in a cross that glanced off the head of Sergio Busquets before finding its way to Pique.
The Spain international defender used his chest to cushion the ball down and then smacked a volley past Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez from close range.
The win puts Pep Guardiola’s side firmly in control of the title race and – with eight matches left in the season – on course for their third consecutive championship crown.
Elsewhere, four goals from striker Roberto Soldado helped Valencia come from a goal down to beat Getafe 4-2 away from home.
The win keeps Valencia third, a distant 16 points behind Real and 24 back from Barca.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!