Barca draws at Espanyol, leads with Madrid at midway point
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A late strike from Espanyol forward Wu Lei stymied a superb performance by Luis Suárez on Saturday to leave 10-man Barcelona tied on points atop the Spanish league with Real Madrid at the halfway stage of the season.
The China forward scored an equalizer with two minutes remaining to give last-place Espanyol a 2-2 draw at home with crosstown rival Barcelona after Suárez had put the visitors on course for a win. The hosts were helped when Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong was sent off for a second yellow card with 15 minutes remaining.
“The hardest thing to do is to turn a game around when playing on the road,” Suárez said. “We let these points slip away.”
The draw tightened the title race after 19 of 38 rounds. Barcelona is ahead of second-place Real Madrid on goal difference following a 3-0 win by Zinedine Zidane’s side at Getafe.
Atlético Madrid moved into third place after Jan Oblak’s great goalkeeping ensured a 2-1 win over Levante. Atlético is ahead of Sevilla, which drew on Friday, on goal difference.
FIRST VS LAST
Suárez canceled out David López’s first-half goal by scoring in the 50th with a precise touch of the tip of his right boot to steer Jordi Alba’s lobbed pass inside the near post.
Suárez’s assist for substitute Arturo Vidal to give Barcelona the lead nine minutes later was just as impressive. Suárez first dribbled around a defender before using the outside of his right boot to flip a pass across the box for Vidal to head home.
Barcelona was heading for a comeback win until Wu broke free down the right side of the area to receive a pass from Matías Vargas and drove an angled shot past goalkeeper Neto.
The Spanish league said Wu is the first Chinese player to score against Barcelona.
The gutsy performance by Espanyol came in the debut of coach Espanyol coach Abelardo Fernández, a former Barcelona defender, who became the club’s third coach of the season last week during the league’s winter break.
“If we compete like this, we will be hard to beat,” Abelardo said.
Madrid center back Raphael Varane scored with a header after helping to play a part in an own-goal by Getafe’s goalkeeper to end his team’s run of three straight draws and its worrisome scoring drought.
Varane was already charged with anchoring a backline that was without the suspended Sergio Ramos. But he also came through at the other end to help get his team’s first goals after back-to-back scoreless draws.
Varane was involved in an own-goal by Getafe goalkeeper David Soria to open the scoring in the 34th when they challenged for a high ball in the area. The Spanish league credited the goal to Soria, who appeared to knock the ball into his own net after failing to punch it clear.
Varane doubled the lead in the 53rd when he was left unmarked to head home a free kick by Toni Kroos. Luka Modric added a third goal in stoppage time as Getafe lost its second of 10 league home matches this season.
“We have made a good start to the year,” Zidane said.
Atlético got a third straight victory after scoring early and relying on Oblak to protect the three points.
Thomas Partey started the attractive move that led to Ángel Correa’s opener in the 13th when he played Kieran Trippier wide down the right flank. Trippier, instead of controlling the ball, used a single touch to send in a cross to the near post where Correa redirected it in.
Roger Martí did well to level three minutes later for Levante when he swept in a lobbed pass for his ninth goal of the season.
Atlético defender Felipe Monteiro then hit right back for Atlético in the 19th with a powerful header.
The opening salvo of goals by both sides set up Oblak´s heroics in the final stretch.
Atlético turned to Oblak to make two one-handed saves in denying Enis Bardhi late in the game. Oblak frustrated Bardhi’s excellent solo effort after he dribbled past three defenders before shooting off-balance. The Slovenia goalkeeper then surpassed that by stopping Bardhi’s point-blank header on one of the final touches of the match.
“We all want to wrap the games up early, but we didn’t score the third goal that would have put it away,” Oblak said. “It was a reflex save and fortunately I stopped (Bardhi’s last attempt).”
Valencia striker Maxi Gómez scored from a pass by Daniel Wass in the first half of a 1-0 home win over Eibar.
Valencia, which struggled early in the season, continued to climb up the table into sixth place.