Barcelona exploits Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead
MADRID (AP) — Barcelona took advantage of Real Madrid’s stumble to kick off the second half of the season with another win and enjoy its biggest lead so far at the top of the Spanish league.
After Madrid’s 1-0 loss at Mallorca, Barcelona extended its 10-game winning streak in all competitions with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Sevilla on Sunday to open an eight-point lead over Madrid after 20 of 38 rounds.
It is the biggest lead by any team this season, putting the Catalan club in firm control as it chases its first league title since 2018-19.
“We are having a great season. We have been playing well, not giving many chances for our opponents,” Barcelona defender Jordi Alba said. “It’s eight points. There’s a lot of league left, but it’s a good gap.”
Alba, Gavi and Raphinha scored a goal each in the second half to give Barcelona its fifth straight victory in the league.
The last game Barcelona failed to win was a 1-1 league draw against Espanyol last year.
Sevilla, which got off to a surprisingly awful start to the season, was coming off two straight league wins that had helped it move further away from the relegation zone. It dropped to 16th place with the loss, two points from the drop zone.
Sevilla hasn’t won in 15 league matches against Barcelona, and in 20 straight visits to the Catalan club.
Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets had to be replaced eight minutes into the match at Camp Nou with an apparent ankle sprain.
Marco Asensio missed a penalty kick in Madrid’s loss at Mallorca in its last match before traveling to Morocco to play at the Club World Cup.
Madrid was depleted by injuries and rested some players ahead of the Club World Cup,
“We already expected a very tough match,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We had our chances but couldn’t take advantage of them.”
Ancelotti couldn’t count on several injured starters, including striker Karim Benzema, defender Éder Militão and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was dropped from the squad at the last minute after getting injured during the warmup. Ancelotti also rested midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who came on in the second half.
Asensio missed a chance to equalize when his 60th-minute penalty kick was saved by Mallorca goalkeeper Pedrag Rajkovic after Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior had been fouled. Madrid’s last chance was a header by Antonio Rüdiger that went narrowly wide deep into stoppage time.
The hosts got on the board with an own-goal by Nacho Fernández, who was replacing Militão in defense. Nacho went for a high cross and deflected the ball into his own net over goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, who started in place of Courtois.
“I hit the ball with my head and unfortunately it went into the top corner,” Nacho said. “It was a complicated match, against a team that is having a good season. It’s a pity that we let three points get away.”
Madrid was coming off a win against Valencia after being held by Real Sociedad. Its opponent in the semifinals of the Club World Cup on Wednesday will be Egyptian club Al Ahly.
It was the second win in three league matches for Mallorca, and the fourth straight at home. It remained midtable with 28 points from 20 matches.
“It’s a good result, moves us further away from the relegation zone,” Mallorca’s Mexican coach Javier Aguirre said. “But there are many matches left, we can’t relax.”
Vinícius was shown a yellow card and will be suspended for Madrid’s next league game against last-place Elche.
Real Sociedad missed a chance to move within three points of Madrid after losing 1-0 to Valladolid at home.
It was the third winless game for the Basque Country club after a nine-game winning streak in all competitions. Sociedad was coming off a 1-0 loss to Barcelona in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, and a 0-0 draw at Madrid in the league.
Newly signed Canadian forward Cyle Larin scored a second-half winner for 13th-place Valladolid, which has won two in a row after five straight losses in all competitions.
Valencia’s struggles continued with a 1-0 defeat at Girona, a result that extended its losing streak to five matches in all competitions.
Valencia has only one win in its last 12 league matches and is sitting just outside the relegation zone.
Girona moved to 11th place.
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