Barcelona beats Betis, moves closer to Spanish league title
Barcelona scored two second-half goals to defeat 10-man Real Betis 2-0 on Saturday and move closer to winning the Spanish league title.
The win put Barcelona back in first place after both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid had won earlier. Real Madrid defeated Real Sociedad 1-0 behind a late winner by Gareth Bale, and Atletico topped Rayo Vallecano by the same score with a goal by French striker Antoine Griezmann.
Victories against Espanyol and Granada in the final two rounds will secure Barcelona its second consecutive title. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have 85 points each, with the Catalan club ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker. Real Madrid is one point behind with two rounds to go. All three teams have won their matches in the last three rounds.
Lionel Messi set up both Barcelona goals at the Benito Villamarin Stadium in Seville. Ivan Rakitic scored in the 50th minute after a defensive blunder and Luis Suarez added his league-leading 35th goal in the 81st to seal the victory.
Real Betis played a man down from the 37th after Heiko Westermann was sent off for two yellow cards. The German defender was shown his first yellow in the 28th for a foul on Messi, and the second came less than 10 minutes later for a foul on Rakitic.
Rakitic broke the deadlock from close range after goalkeeper Antonio Adan failed to intercept Messi's cross to Rakitic inside the area.
The Argentine playmaker then sent a perfect long ball to Suarez in front of the goal, and the Uruguay striker easily netted his ninth goal in three games.
In Madrid, Atletico won despite playing with only four players from the starting lineup that defeated Bayern Munich 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals on Wednesday at the Vicente Calderon Stadium. Coach Diego Simeone, serving a three-game suspension for throwing a second ball onto the field in the previous league round, rested most of the regular starters on Saturday ahead of the return game in Germany on Tuesday.
But with his team struggling, Simeone put Griezmann into the game and the striker scored right away with a shot from just inside the area in the 55th minute, giving Atletico its seventh straight victory. Simeone's tough defense hasn't conceded a goal in six consecutive games.
"Rayo made things difficult for us," Griezmann said. "The players who started lacked rhythm, which was normal, they hadn't played in a long time. But we were able to improve and got the win."
Bale scored with a firm header after a well-placed cross by Lucas Vazquez in the 80th, giving Madrid its 10th-straight league win in a difficult match at Anoeta Stadium.
Madrid was without Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema because of hamstring injuries ahead of Wednesday's Champions League semifinal against Manchester City. The first leg was 0-0 in England.
"We've been suffering with injuries, but the team has responded well," Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said. "The players who have come in have played well, this has been key for us."
Real Madrid dominated from the start but had difficulties getting past Sociedad's Argentine goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.
"We knew it was going to be a difficult match, but we went for the win from the start," Ramos said. "We created a lot of chances but just couldn't capitalize on them."
Bale had already missed a few good opportunities before finally scoring the winner in the northeastern city of San Sebastian.
His best chance had been in the 57th, when he got to a loose ball inside the area but his low shot from near the penalty spot was blocked by Rulli.
Bale finally broke through by jumping high over a defender to meet Vazquez's cross from the right side, sending the ball into the upper corner.