Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos struck another late winner as the European champions usurped Barcelona at the top of La Liga with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Real Betis on Sunday.
Earlier, Barca boss Luis Enrique accepted his side had struggled to shrug off the euphoria of a remarkable Champions League comeback against Paris Saint-Germain as the Spanish champions slumped to a shock 2-1 defeat at Deportivo la Coruna. Victory for Madrid moves Real two points clear of Barcelona and with a game in hand still to come.
“I would be happier if we scored two or three goals at the start,” said Real coach Zinedine Zidane.
“But we remain calm because we know we can score at any moment.”
However, Madrid’s win was mired in controversy as goalkeeper Keylor Navas was extremely lucky to avoid an early red card before making a brilliant stoppage time save to deny Antonio Sanabria.
Navas clearly cleaned out Darko Brasanac on the edge of the Madrid area as he raced from his goal after just 20 minutes, but referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz inexplicably waived play on.
The hosts didn’t benefit from Navas’s presence just four minutes later, though, as he bundled Sarabia’s shot into his own goal having appeared to have the effort under control. “The most important thing for me is the support Keylor received from his teammates,” added Zidane.
“They know how important he is and in the end he made a great save to get us the three points.”
Cristiano Ronaldo ensured Madrid went in level at the break as he rose unmarked to power home Marcelo’s cross from close range for his 26th goal of the season. The visitors’ chances of escaping with a point were dealt a huge blow when Cristiano Piccini saw a second yellow card 12 minutes from time.
And just three minutes later, fresh from scoring two vital away goals at Napoli to ease Madrid into the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday, Ramos powered home another Toni Kroos header for the winner.
Betis could still have salvaged a point, but Navas made amends for his early mistakes with a brilliant stop from Sanabria’s powerful header.
At Riazor, a much-changed Barcelona side from the one that hammered PSG 6-1 suffered a body blow to their hopes a third successful title with a first league defeat since October. Joselu had fired Deportivo into a first-half lead before Luis Suarez levelled in the first minute of the second period. However, Alex Bergantinos rose highest from a corner to seal Deportivo’s first victory over Barcelona since 2008. “Obviously it was difficult. Only those that have experienced what we have this week knows what it means, but as professionals we know nothing is gifted to you,” said Enrique.—AFP