Lewandowski-powered Barca thrash Atletico to stay in title race

Catalans moved two points clear of third-placed Girona

AFP March 18, 2024


Robert Lewandowski inspired a resurgent Barcelona to a 3-0 triumph at Atletico Madrid on Sunday to keep their faint La Liga title hopes alive.

Lewandowski set up goals for Joao Felix and Fermin Lopez either side of striking himself to pull Barcelona second, eight points behind leaders Real Madrid.

The Catalans, who returned to the Champions League quarter-finals this week after four years, became the first team to beat Atletico at the Metropolitano stadium this season.

Barcelona were the last team to win at Atletico in the top flight too, in January 2023, with Diego Simeone's team going 25 matches without defeat in between.

They crumbled against Xavi Hernandez's side, who now have five consecutive wins over Atletico and are unbeaten in 10 matches since the coach said he would leave at the end of the season.

Barcelona moved two points clear of third-placed Girona, while Atletico are now fifth, after Athletic Bilbao moved above them on Saturday.

"I'll push the (players) more than ever," Xavi told DAZN, refusing to throw in the towel on Barcelona's title defence.

"And now that I'm leaving, even more so -- we will try to improve and compete for La Liga and the Champions League, the two most important trophies."

Atletico played 120 minutes on Wednesday against Inter Milan in Europe and although Barcelona saw off Napoli a day before, it was Simeone's side who started sharper.

Pablo Barrios spurned a good early chance and 17-year-old starlet Pau Cubarsi blocked Alvaro Morata's effort.

However Barcelona took the lead against the run of play after 38 minutes.

Ilkay Gundogan glided forward from midfield and found Lewandowski, who squared for on-loan forward Felix to turn home against his parent club.

The Portuguese striker scored the only goal when the teams met in December and again proved a thorn in Atletico's side while being whistled by home fans throughout.

Xavi was dismissed before the break for dissent but his team kicked on regardless in the second half.

Simeone sent on Antoine Griezmann and Memphis Depay, searching for more spark in the final third.

Lewandowski quickly doubled Barcelona's lead with a lethal finish, after Rodrigo de Paul gave the ball away in a dangerous area.

Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a superb save to deny Marcos Llorente but Atletico were starting to tire after their midweek exploits.

Lopez headed home Barca's third after Lewandowski set him up with an inch-perfect cross, with the veteran Polish striker offering one of his best performances for the club.

The goal capped a superb week for Lopez, who also scored in the win over Napoli.

"We're believing until the end, (now we're in) second place, trying to cut the points gap and fight for La Liga," Lopez told DAZN.

Atletico's Nahuel Molina was sent off for bringing down Vitor Roque late on as Barcelona saw out their impressive win, keeping a fourth consecutive clean sheet in the league.

"They were superior, they put away their first chances for goals," Simeone told DAZN.

"We'll keep pushing for fourth place, it will be difficult, tricky, that's normal ... we have to keep improving, a lot."

Earlier Almeria ended a miserable streak by earning their first La Liga win of the season, edging Las Palmas 1-0.

The Andalusian side went 31 league games without victory stretching back to May last season, but Leo Baptistao's 14th-minute goal snapped their terrible run in coach Pepe Mel's first match in charge.

Despite winning on the road, Mel's side are still 20th and 14 points from safety with nine matches remaining.

Almeria's 31-match run is the longest winless streak in the division's history, but they are now level with Sporting Gijon's lowest ever points tally from 1997-98.

"Winning today means a liberation (for the team) ... winning three points and changing the dynamic," said Mel.

Victory ensured Almeria will not tally fewer points than Derby County's 11 in the Premier League in 2007-08, which is the lowest total across Europe's top leagues since teams started earning three points for a win.


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