Messi scores late goal but Real Madrid tighten grip on La Liga title

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Madrid, Jan 9 (IANS) FC Barcelona saw their hopes of retaining the La Liga football championship title slip further through their fingers when they were held to a 1-1 draw away to Villarreal.

Although Leo Messi scored his second free kick in just four days in the last minute of the game to cancel out Nico Sansone’s opener for Villarreal on Sunday, the two dropped points saw Barca slip to five points behind Real Madrid, who also have a game in hand, allowing Sevilla leapfrog over them into second place in the table, reports Xinhua.

Both sides saw good penalty claims for handball turned down by referee Iglesias Villanueva, but Barca were again playing short of their best as Andre Gomes produced another disappointing display, while Ivan Rakitic was again left out of the squad.

On Saturday, Real Madrid enjoyed their 39th unbeaten game, thanks to a comfortable 5-0 win at home to struggling Granada.

Zinedine Zidane’s side were in control from start to finish in their first league game in almost a month, and took the lead with a 12th minute Isco goal, before Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Isco (again) made it 4-0 by halftime.

Casemiro added a fifth in the second half in a match which highlighted Granada’s problems as they find themselves deep in the relegation zone.

Meanwhile Sevilla, who are preparing to entertain Madrid in one week’s time, managed to bag a 4-0 away win to Real Sociedad.

Sociedad went into the match with hopes of climbing into the top-four, but defensive errors condemned them to defeat in a game where Sevilla striker Wissam Ben Yedder scored a hat-trick and Pablo Sarabia added a fourth.

Atletico Madrid continued their recovery with a 2-0 win away to Eibar thanks to a solid defensive display coupled with second-half goals from Saul Niguez, which should have been ruled out for offside, and Antoine Griezmann’s first league goal in 10 games.

Athletic Club missed a chance to close the gap on the top-four as they were held to a 0-0 draw by a hard-working and well-organised Alaves in a Basque derby in the San Mames stadium.

Celta Vigo however, enjoyed a convincing 3-1 win at home to Malaga to ruin Marcelo Romero’s debut in the Malaga dugout following Juande Ramos’ resignation before the holidays.

Celta played their typical flowing football and were rewarded after just seven minutes when Iago Aspes netted his 11th goal of the season.

Daniel Wass doubled Celta’s lead after 60 minutes and Andreu Fontas sealed the win in the 73rd minute before Wass blotted his copybook with an own goal five minutes from time.

Betis took a bit step towards safety with a 2-0 win at home to Leganes with second half goals from Ruben Castro and Matteo Piccini giving them a deserved victory after a dull first 45 minutes.

Nabil el Zhar’s second half goal was enough to give an impressive Las Palmas all three points against a Sporting Gijon side which looks ill-equipped to avoid relegation.

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