La Liga title race: Barca and Real win, Atletico out of running

The title race is going to the wire in La Liga.

Barcelona thrashed local rivals Espanyol 5-0 to move to within one win of a 24th Primera Division title.

Lionel Messi opened the scoring in the eighth minute with a brilliant free-kick, while Luis Suarez scored twice in the second half to move onto 37 goals for the season, putting him in prime position to collect the Pichichi award for top scorer.

Rafinha delighted the home fans by netting his first goal since returning from a serious knee injury, and then Neymar rounded off the scoring by tapping in Suarez's low pass.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Champions League finalists Real Madrid defeated Valencia 3-2.

Atletico Madrid, who meet Real in the Champions League final later this month, were eliminated from the three-horse race for the domestic title in Spain, which will now be decided during the last round of fixtures after Zinedine Zidane's men and Barca both won.

A brace from Ronaldo, which took his tally for the season to 33 in the division, was sandwiched between a controversial Karim Benzema strike as a much-changed Madrid side maintained the one-point gap to leaders Barca.

Barca stay top of La Liga by moving on to 88 points, one ahead of Real Madrid in second and three above Atletico Madrid, who drop out of the title race after losing 2-1 at Levante.

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Espanyol eye chance to ruin Barcelona's La Liga title ambitions

Andy West 8/05/2016
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Familiar foes: Barcelona and Espanyol.

Barca know victory in their remaining two games will be enough to secure the championship, irrespective of the results gained by challengers Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

But Espanyol, who assured their top flight status for next season with last weekend’s home victory over Sevilla, are determined to wreck their hated local rival’s title dreams by taking something from the game. There is a recent precedent of that scenario, with Espanyol visiting the Nou Camp on the penultimate day of the 2006/7 season and helping to hand the title to Real

Madrid – with whom they historically share a close relationship – thanks to a last minute equaliser by striker Raul Tamudo.

That dramatic day has since been immortalised as ‘Tamudazo’ by Espanyol fans, who are desperate for their team to hand Barca another dose of the same medicine tonight. Fans of Los Pericos, whose old Sarria stadium was located less than a mile from the Nou Camp before their move further away in the 1990s, even ended last week’s win over Sevilla by chanting for “another Tamudazo”, rather than celebrating their own salvation from relegation.

Current Espanyol frontman Felipe Caicedo has boosted the hype by claiming earlier this week that he is “dreaming of creating a Caicedazo”, while goalkeeper Pau Lopez admitted he wants “one of the teams from Madrid” to win the title. There has also been bad blood this season between the two teams, who met three times in the space of 10 days in January as Espanyol claimed a goalless home draw in La Liga before Barcelona came out on top of a bad-tempered two-legged Copa del Rey fixture.

Understandably, however, Barca boss Enrique is adopting the position that whipping up local enmity is the last thing his team needs at such a delicate stage of the season, and attempted to downplay all the talk of ‘Tamudazo’ which has dominated the local media.

“I don’t remember things that happened four weeks ago, never mind things like that,” he teased. “I don’t even know when it [Tamudo’s goal] happened and I’m not in the least bit interested.”

Enrique also attempted to ensure there is no ill-feeling following January’s trio of games, which saw two Espanyol players sent off, keeper Lopez escape punishment after stamping viciously on Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez hit with a ban after an incident in the tunnel.

“I have no interest in talking about those games,” he said. “They are derbies, which usually have a different tone than normal games.

“I hope we can focus on football first, second and third. But I know there will be some tension, and I expect a great atmosphere with the full support of our fans. We have to focus on the game, which is where we’re strongest.”

Continuing his mission to treat Espanyol as just another team rather than a bitter rival, Enrique added: “At this stage of the season, with the positive position we are in, I couldn’t care less who we play against. We just have to take care of all the details. We will focus on their strengths, like counter-attacking and set-pieces. And above all we must play with our heads.”

Marc-Andre ter Stegen will replace the injured Claudio Bravo in goal, while Jeremy Mathieu is set to be named on the bench after returning to fitness with no other changes expected from Enrique.

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La Liga Fans’ Top 5: Veteran Aduriz top plus Bale and Iniesta

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This week's top five players in La Liga.

Each week, Sport360 will be bring you the best five players from La Liga, as chosen by you the supporters through our ValoraFutbol fan ratings tool.

YOU have direct influence on who appears in each Top Five so be sure to rate each weekend.

1) ARITZ ADURIZ (ATHLETIC BILBAO) – 7.80

He just can’t stop scoring.

The veteran Athletic Bilbao forward became the top-goalscoring Spaniard in La Liga this term as he netted his 18th of the season during the 2-1 home success over Real Betis.

Aduriz, 35, who is pushing for a return to the international fold with Spain, converted a penalty as the Basque side remain in fifth and in hot pursuit of European football next term.

2) PEDRO LEON (GETAFE) – 7.43

The former Real Madrid winger scored an invaluable first-half strike as the capital-based club defeated Deportivo La Coruna 2-0 to ease their relegation fears.

The Spaniard received the ball from Pablo Sarabia in the 41st minute on the right-hand side of the penalty area, and he showed skill and awareness to cut the ball onto his left foot and drill home into the corner.

Leon is somewhat of a talisman for Juan Esnáider’s side and they will need all of his experience between now and the end of the season if they are to starve off the threat of the drop.

3) GARETH BALE (REAL MADRID) – 7.32

Los Blancos kept neck and neck with fellow title contenders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid after the Welshman nodded home a late winner in the 1-0 victory at Real Sociedad.

Bale once again proved his aerial prowess and continued his rich goalscoring form, in the continued absence of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 26-year-old has netted 19 La Liga goals in 22 appearances this term.

4) ANDRES INIESTA (BARCELONA) – 7.25

Club captain and legend Iniesta helped his boyhood club secure a 2-0 away win at 10-man Real Betis and maintain their grip on the Spanish title.

Luis Enrique’s men won the points courtesy of goals from Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez and the 31-year-old was at the heart of the action in the midfield.

5) JONATHAN VIERA (LAS PALMAS) – 7.20

The 26-year-old Spaniard grabbed two goals for his team at the weekend, but it wasn’t enough as mid-table Las Palmas lost 3-2 at high-flying Celta Vigo.

Viera got the scoring underway after just three minutes with a delightful effort outside the penalty area before then doubling the away side’s lead just nine minutes later.

But from then on, it went from good to very bad for the Yellows as they relinquished their two-goal lead and lost the match.

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