The Spanish Liga is witnessing its most closely contested multi-team title race for 32 years, after Real Madrid CF reined in joint leaders FC Barcelona and Club Atlético de Madrid to within a point over the weekend.
Not since 1981/82 – when Barcelona, Madrid and eventual champions Real Sociedad de Fútbol were level on points after 20 games – have three sides been so closely matched at the summit at this stage of a Spanish top-flight season. Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid set the standard on Saturday with a 5-0 win at Real Betis Balompié, yet neither Barça nor Atlético could follow suit, drawing against Levante UD and Sevilla FC respectively.
"Games can look easy afterwards – it's beforehand that you are aware problems can arise," Ancelotti said after his team posted their fifth successive victory in all competitions in 2014. "However, we prepared well and played well on the day. We play a very quick game going forward and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Gareth] Bale and [Karim] Benzema [with his 100th goal for the club] all scored; they were very efficient. We created a lot of chances thanks to our midfielders, above all [Luka] Modrić."
Ángel Di María and Álvaro Morata also netted in a success that brought Madrid's Liga goalscoring tally to 58, more than any other side in the division. Their city rivals Atlético, meanwhile, continue to boast the meanest defence. However, after being frustrated in a 1-1 home draw with Sevilla on Sunday, coach Diego Simeone said the Rojiblancos would need to start mixing up their style.
"We need to find alternatives in order to win these games," Simeone said of a match he described as "ugly" and in which an Ivan Rakitić penalty cancelled out David Villa's opener. "The style [we faced tonight] makes it more difficult to create chances and in that area we must look to improve. That said, we got a point which keeps us in a strong position."
Elsewhere, Barcelona found Costa Rican international goalkeeper Keylor Navas in top form as they were held to a 1-1 draw away to Levante, Loukas Vyntra and Gerard Piqué both scoring from headers. "We did everything we could have done to win but they played very tight at the back and didn't give any space away," Lionel Messi said afterwards. "I think we did enough but we were missing that little bit of luck."
Coach Gerardo Martino added: "That's the type of game we'd win nine times out of ten so we're leaving here feeling down." The leaders, above Atlético on goal difference, will look to lift themselves for another trip to Levante in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.
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