Madrid, Spain, Jan 29 – Real Madrid extended their La Liga lead to four points and still have a game in hand over their title rivals as Cristiano Ronaldo was on target in a 3-0 win over Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Earlier on Sunday, Barcelona were left to rue La Liga’s lack of goal line technology as they weren’t awarded a clear goal in a controversial 1-1 draw at Real Betis.
However, Barca still moved up to second on goal difference as Sevilla were reduced to 10 men after just two minutes in a 3-1 defeat at Espanyol.
Madrid had won only one of their previous five games and were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by Celta Vigo in midweek.
However, even without six first-team regulars through injury, Real took a huge step towards a first La Liga title for five years against an in-form Sociedad, who remain just one point off the top four in fifth.
“After a few difficult days we were back to being ourselves tonight. It was a complete performance against a strong opponent,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.
“We can say it has been a good night for us because our rivals have drawn or lost.”
Mateo Kovacic opened the scoring with the only real chance of the first-half as he timed his late run from midfield perfectly for Ronaldo’s through ball and slotted low beyond Geronimo Rulli.
The roles were reversed six minutes into the second-half as this time Kovacic’s pass split the Sociedad defence and Ronaldo coolly chipped the onrushing Rulli for his 20th goal of the season.
Sociedad’s uphill task was made impossible 15 minutes from time when Inigo Martinez was sent-off for a second bookable offence.
And Alvaro Morata made the 10 men pay as he bulleted home Lucas Vazquez’s cross for the third eight minutes from time.
‘Metre over the line’
There was far more drama at the Benito Villamarin as Barca were largely outplayed by Betis, but still felt hard done by after referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez failed to award them an equaliser when the ball crossed the Betis line shortly after Alex Alegria’s opener 15 minutes from time.
“We have to help the referees,” Barca boss Luis Enrique told BeIN Sports Spain.
“The technology can help them. I say that for all situations not just ones that go for me, but against me too.”
Luis Suarez did at least rescue a point in the dying seconds, though, as he slotted home Lionel Messi’s through ball for his 21st goal of the season.
However, he was less understanding as he claimed the ball “was a metre over the line.”
The hosts dominated opening 75 minutes as Dani Ceballos saw a dipping long-range effort come back off the bar before Ruben Castro struck the post with Marc-Andre ter Stegen beaten at his near post.
The German goalkeeper had a moment to forget for the opening goal as he failed to get a good connection on an attempted punch under pressure from two Betis players and the ball fell kindly for Alegria to tap home.
Conceding appeared to wake Barca from their slumber and they were doubly denied by Hernandez seconds later as Neymar went down inside the area and the ball ricocheted off Riza Durmisi and over his own line despite Alissa Mandi’s best efforts.
Yet, La Liga’s refusal to implement goal line technology due to pricing fears cost Barca dearly as no goal was given.
Betis should have sealed the three points when Castro broke clear on goal eight minutes from time, but Ter Stegen redeemed himself with a fine save.
And that miss proved crucial as Messi finally found the space to slip a pass through the Betis defence and Suarez dispatched the ball into the far corner.
“The feeling I have is that we have won one point (not lost two),” added Enrique.
There was also refereeing controversy at Espanyol as Sevilla’s shot at moving top lasted barely two minutes when Nico Pareja was very harshly sent-off on top of conceding a penalty for a trip on Pablo Piatti.
Former Sevilla favourite Jose Antonio Reyes showed no mercy to his former club as he converted from the spot, but Stefan Jovetic levelled for the 10 men inside 20 minutes.
Reyes haunted Sevilla once more as his free-kick was headed home by Marc Navarro in first-half stoppage time.
And Gerard Moreno sealed the three points for Espanyol as this time Navarro was the supplier for his headed finish.