Real Madrid and Atletico win to keep pressure on Barcelona

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Winners: Real Madrid.

Madrid stay third in the Primera Division table on 78 points, one behind leaders Barcelona and second-placed Atletico.

Madrid were missing Gareth Bale and Dani Carvajal through injury but looked the stronger team against fourth-placed Villarreal, although they took their time to break down Marcelino’s side.

Benzema had an early shot saved by Asenjo, who also denied Ronaldo, and defender Eric Bailly made a vital block to prevent Toni Kroos from playing in Benzema in the box.

The Frenchman finally put Madrid in charge after 41 minutes, arriving at the near post to head into the net as Asenjo failed to hold Ronaldo’s cross from the left.

Madrid could have lost their lead just before the break though and needed Keylor Navas to tip away a shot from Denis Suarez, who could have crossed to Cedric Bakambu at the far post.

Modric came close to doubling Madrid’s advantage early in the second half but his shot was deflected just wide of the near post.

Instead it was Vazquez who got the crucial second goal, playing a one-two with Benzema down the right and sending the ball crashing past Asenjo at the near post.

Modric then got the goal he craved, sliding in to meet a cross from Danilo on the volley.

But Madrid’s celebrations were dampened by the image of Ronaldo walking off the pitch before the final whistle, clutching the back of his thigh.

Zinedine Zidane had already made the maximum three substitutions, and Ronaldo was unable to remain on the pitch for the final minutes of injury time.

Victory came at a cost though and Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to finish the game due to a suspected muscle injury.

The Portuguese walked off the Bernabeu pitch in injury time clutching the back of his thigh and his place in the team for next week’s Champions League semi-final first leg with Manchester City could be in doubt.

Fernando Torres’s sensational form kept Atletico in the race as he scored for the fifth consecutive game with a towering header from Antoine Griezmann’s cross for the only goal of the game seven minutes before half-time in Bilbao.

However, victory came at a cost for Atletico as inspirational defender Diego Godin limped off with a hamstring injury that is likely to see him miss at least the first-leg of their Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich.

Even without Godin, Atletico handled Bilbao’s aerial bombardment to register their 31st clean sheet of the season and keep their title hopes very much alive with three of their last four games to come at home.

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Ivan Rakitic, Lionel Messi, Marc Bartra and Neymar were also on target as Barca reasserted their control on the Spanish title race.

Victory moved Barca back three points ahead of Atletico Madrid and four clear of third-placed Real Madrid with both sides from the capital in action later on Wednesday against Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal respectively.

Barca had taken just one point from their last possible 12 in the league and been dumped out of the Champions League amidst a run of just one win in six games that threatened to derail their season.

However, they remain in control of their own fate and few would bet against them winning their last four games and claiming a 24th Liga title after a performance as good as any in the 39-game unbeaten run they enjoyed prior to losing at home to Real Madrid earlier his month.

Suarez settled the visitors’ nerves after just 11 minutes when he outmuscled Sidnei to volley home the opener despite the hosts’ desperate appeals for a foul.

Deportivo should have hit back immediately as Celso Borges shot meekly at Claudio Bravo with just the Chilean international to beat.

Borges then had an even better opportunity as he rounded Bravo, but Bartra got back to block his effort from point-blank range before Oriol Riera fired the follow-up over.

Suarez gave Barca the cushion they desired when he latched onto Messi’s sumptuous through ball to slot low past Manu.

The Uruguayan should have had a first-half hat-trick but he failed to turn home Alves’s fine cross from two yards out moments later.

Suarez made amends as he turned provider for Barca’s third just after the break when his cross to the back post was volleyed home emphatically by Rakitic.

Messi created the fourth with another defence splitting pass and Suarez kept his composure to seal his sixth hat-trick of a prolific season.

The relief amongst the Barca players was palpable as they seemed to click back into the form that had them set for a second consecutive treble before their sudden collapse in the previous six games.

Suarez was gifted his fourth of the night from Neymar’s unselfish cross despite Laure blocking his initial attempt on the line for his 49th goal of the season.

The former Liverpool striker then added a second assist to his four-goal haul as Barca again tore the Deportivo defence apart and his cut-back was gratefully tapped home by Messi.

Bartra joined the party as he galloped forward from his own half without facing a single strong Deportivo challenge before firing into the far corner.

And Neymar completed a perfect night for the Spanish champions when he tapped home at the far post from Suarez’s third assist of a spectacular display for his first goal in six games.

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Feeling confident: Diego Simeone.

Diego Simeone has hinted he thinks Barcelona will drop more points this season.

Atletico have won their last three league games, as well as knocking Barca out of the Champions League, to move level with the Blaugrana at the top of the table.

And although the Catalan club hold the head-to-head advantage, Atletico know that one more slip-up from Luis Enrique’s side will open the door for them to become champions for the second time in three seasons.

Simeone said: “I’m not a prophet, and it’s very difficult to predict what will happen. But I have the feeling we don’t depend on anybody else. We depend upon ourselves. I’m just saying what I think.”

However, the question of whether Atletico will be able to win all five of their remaining fixtures is another matter, with Wednesday night’s trip to Athletic Bilbao presenting Simeone’s men with one of their toughest tests of the season.

A good run of form has lifted the Basque club into fifth place in the table, and they have lost just one of their last 13 league games at San Mames.

Simeone, who will be without suspended skipper Gabi for Wednesday night’s contest, said: “Athletic are an important team with a lot of strength all over the pitch. But we are ready. We aren’t doing any tactical work because all the boys already know exactly what to do and they are all ready to play.”

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