Barcelona’s title hopes suffered a hammer blow on Saturday as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Celta Vigo, handing Real Madrid the chance to move two points clear at the top of La Liga.
Luis Suarez twice put Barca in front at Balaidos with his first goals since January but Iago Aspas bent in a late free-kick to earn Celta a draw, in what could prove a pivotal moment in the title race.
Barcelona edge a point ahead of Madrid but Zinedine Zidane’s side will hope to take a big step towards becoming champions by winning away at bottom club Espanyol on Sunday.
Madrid own the superior head-to-head against Barca and have won four out of four since La Liga restarted earlier this month. With a kinder run-in than the Catalans, who play Atletico Madrid next on Tuesday, the trophy appears to be Madrid’s to lose.
“The feeling is a negative one,” said Suarez afterwards. “If we want to stay in the title race and have it in our hands we have to win all our games. But we now have to rely on Madrid to drop points.”
Suarez played his best game since undergoing knee surgery in January, his first goal coming from a surprise free-kick from Lionel Messi, who crossed when everyone expected him to shoot.
Yet Barcelona’s defensive frailties hurt them again and Celta should even have won it in injury-time, only for Nolito to miss a golden chance at the back post.
Celta climb to 16th, eight points clear of the bottom three.
Quique Setien answered calls to start 20-year-old Riqui Puig and 17-year-old Ansu Fati, and the duo impressed, injecting energy and speed into Barca’s attack.
Antoine Griezmann was left on the bench and when he came on, he was on the side of the wall that Aspas breached with his free-kick to find the bottom corner.
Messi was at the heart of everything going forward and it was his early corner that Gerard Pique headed against the crossbar.
With a free-kick on the edge of the area in the 20th minue and a 700th career goal in sight, Messi sized up the sprawl of Celta defenders in front of him.
But with everone expecting a shot, Messi clipped a cross towards the post, where Suarez headed in.
Messi even tried to score from a corner but Celta had chances too on the break. A poor clearance from Marc-Andre ter Stegen went unpunished by Fedor Smolov, who then overhit his pass when Aspas was clear. Brais Mendez slid through and hit the post.
The warnings went unheeded and when Arturo Vidal played a careless pass early in the second half, Celta capitalised.
Aspas sent Okay Yokuslu sprinting in behind and he squared for Smolov to tap in.
Celta look invigorated but Barca landed a sucker-punch. Denis Suarez lost possession under pressure from Fati, Messi played into Luis Suarez, who backed in, turned and drove into the far corner.
It looked like they had weathered the storm but Celta hit back again, Aspas curling around the side of the wall and into the corner with two minutes left.
They should even have won it in injury-time as Denis Suarez teed up Nolito at the back post but a scuffed finish let Ter Stegen save on the line.
Atletico Madrid missed the chance to return to the top of La Liga on Saturday as they were held to a goalless draw at home to Celta Vigo.
After coming from two goals down to salvage a point against Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday, Atletico failed to sustain the momentum in a match of few chances at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Atletico had capitalised on the stumbling starts of both Barcelona and Real Madrid by winning their opening three league games this season but they are now two without a victory, following last weekend’s shock defeat away at Real Sociedad.
They sit level on points with early frontrunners Sevilla, who will host Real Madrid on Sunday.
Celta, meanwhile, sit 14th in the table, having won only one of their five games so far, leaving Atletico’s coach Diego Simeone with familiar questions to answer about his side’s creativity and attacking threat.
Summer signing Joao Felix started before being replaced by Alvaro Morata in the second half, the Spanish striker available again after recovering from a knee injury.
But neither Felix nor Morata, or their partner Diego Costa, could conjur up the decisive opening, with full-backs Renan Lodi and Kieran Trippier by far the team’s most effective outlets in the final third.
Atletico were the better side in the first half but only created a handful of chances, none of which could be classed as clear opportunities.
Trippier’s early free-kick should have been headed in by Felipe Monteiro on his first start for the club but Ruben Blanco did well to react from five yards and push the ball over the crossbar.
Ruben made another smart save to deny Lodi’s driven effort from 30 yards while Felix found space at the back post soon after but his prodded finish was also tipped away.
Celta held their own either side of half-time as the match became increasingly high on intensity but low on quality.
Costa wanted a penalty after the hour, claiming he was pushed after failing to make contact with Lodi’s cross while Brais Mendez might have scored for Celta had Jan Oblak not been quick to shut down Santi Mina’s superb ball through.
Lodi fizzed a late shot past the far post but desperation turned to frustration in the closing stages. Lucas Olaza and Costa each picked up a yellow card for a skirmish after the final whistle.
Zinedine Zidane promised changes but it was a retro Real Madrid that gave the revolution a winning start on Saturday as Gareth Bale led the way in a 3-1 victory over Celta Vigo.
Bale was back in the team and back in form at Balaidos, with Zidane’s eagerness to move him out this summer still perhaps in his mind as he teed up Karim Benzema’s opening goal.
Celta saw a potential equaliser chalked off before half-time. Then Real’s Luka Modric was sent off 11 minutes inti the second half but a stunning 30-yard shot from Toni Kroos put Madrid firmly back in control.
By the time Lucas Vazquez added a delicious third, at the end of a silky passing move, it was possible to wonder where this Madrid have been for the last 12 months, particularly as this starting line-up included not a single summer signing.
Zidane wanted Paul Pogba but it was Casemiro, Modric and Kroos in midfield, the same trio he picked for the Champions League final in 2018.
The coach also started Marcelo, arguably Madrid’s worst performer last term, and Bale. Only last month Zidane had said it would be “best for everyone” if the Welshman were sold.
Eden Hazard, who injured his thigh in training on Friday, will certainly start when he is fit again and there will be much tougher opponents than Celta, who finished 17th last season and were dead and buried before Iker Losada delivered a late consolation.
But, after a poor pre-season, Zidane needed a positive opening. This one was made all the sweeter by Barcelona’s defeat by Athletic Bilbao on Friday night.
Celta spent much of the match feeling aggrieved, no more so than after Benzema scored after just 12 minutes.
The home team claimed a foul by Casemiro in the build up. After that, Bale still had a lot to do, his dart one way and then the other freeing space for a drive towards the near post, where Benzema reacted fastest.
Early on, Bale was everywhere, blocking a cross in his own penalty area before being unleashed on the break, his rasping shot pushed away by Ruben Blanco.
Celta also had their moments. Gabriel Fernandez’s lunge was just short at the back post. Brais Mendez tapped in after the impressive Denis Suarez robbed Alvaro Odriozola and Iago Aspas made the final pass.
Aspas, however, had strayed offside as VAR spared Odriozola’s blushes. The referee, Javier Estrada, departed to a chorus of whistles at half-time.
Benzema and Aspas both spurned chances soon after the restart before Modric was sent off for an innocuous late challenge on the heel of Suarez. Estrada consulted the review and was left in no doubt.
Nestor Aruajo headed the ball straight at Thibaut Courtois but just as Madrid seemed about to give way, Kroos produced his thunderbolt from 30 yards, the ball cannoning down off the crossbar and in.
That knocked the stuffing out of Celta. They went three down when a brilliant team move, involving Isco, Benzema and Marcelo, found Vazquez free at the back post.
Bale had been replaced by Isco, exchanging a hand slap with Zidane as he went, before Losada prodded home in injury-time.
Zinedine Zidane brought Real Madrid’s outcasts in from the cold and they repaid him with a win in his first game back as Isco and Gareth Bale each scored in a 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday.
Isco had not started a single La Liga game under Santiago Solari but opened the scoring here shortly after the hour, before Bale got the goal his own committed display deserved to put sorry Celta out of sight.
Bale was teed up by Marcelo, who was also dropped by Solari but recalled, while Keylor Navas pulled off a superb save in the first half, having been brought back ahead of Thibaut Courtois.
Even Marco Asensio has been almost anonymous through Madrid’s troubles this season and he seemed rejuvenated too, his weaving run leading to the opener from Isco, who was otherwise the quietest of Zidane’s recovering group.
The victory ends a run of four consecutive home defeats and means Madrid reduce the gap to nine points behind Barcelona, who play away at Real Betis on Sunday.
That deficit will surely prove too big to close but Zidane’s job is to restore morale in the 11 league games that are left and to find out what, and who, needs changing in the summer.
At times, this felt like a pre-season fixture, not just because of the baking hot sun but the relaxed atmosphere and the sense this is now a team on trial.
Bale, whose relationship with Zidane deteriorated to breaking point last season, was arguably the biggest winner, his performance proving there could yet be a place for him in what the club’s president Florentino Perez has dubbed “the glorious new era”.
Marcelo impressed too while Courtois might well wonder what his next couple of months hold, given Navas, an old favourite of Zidane, looks to be back in favour.
Zidane had enjoyed his press conference on Friday, joking with journalists about their changed hairstyles and smirking as he admitted he had given the same answers before.
Bale rattles crossbar
There was a cosy feeling at the Santiago Bernabeu too, where fans had a new song to the tune of ‘Hey Jude’, replaced by ‘Zizou’, and cheered their new coach’s name when it was announced before kick-off.
Bale came closest to scoring in the first half with an acrobatic scissor-kick that crashed against the crossbar and later teed up Karim Benzema to tap in, only for the referee to book the Welshman for a foul in the build-up.
In between, Madrid were rather muted, but dominant in possession. Marcelo pulled back for Isco, who slipped, and then watched his fizzing shot from distance pushed away by Ruben Blanco.
Toni Kroos’ effort grazed the roof of the net and from a corner, Sergio Ramos headed wide.
Celta found chances on the break but never looked liked converting. Maxi Gomez, with only Ramos to beat, curled wide while Sofiane Boufal’s finish had to be blocked on the line by Marcelo as Madrid were again caught upfield.
Benzema’s goal was ruled out just before half-time and Luka Modric had one chalked off just after, this time VAR intervening to show Raphael Varane offside and close enough to be deemed active.
Isco’s influence had diminished and Dani Ceballos was ready to replace him just before he scored the opening goal. Asensio made it, a superb run allowing Benzema to cross and Isco to bundle in.
There was still time for Bale to add a second, his touch making space for the shot after Marcelo had slipped him clear. The ball clipped the post and rolled in.
Zinedine Zidane has offered a way back for Gareth Bale, Isco and Marcelo at Real Madrid as he prepares for his first game against Celta Vigo on Saturday since being re-appointed as coach.
Bale, Isco and Marcelo have all endured difficult seasons under Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari, with Bale heavily criticised for his form while Isco and Marcelo have been dropped.
Zidane’s return puts Bale’s future in further doubt, given the pair’s relationship became strained last season, before the Welshman said he was considering his future at the club.
“I am not going to talk about Bale’s season, I only talk about the 11 games we have left,” Zidane said on Friday.
“We all know the player that Gareth is. I am counting on him like everyone else, we are ready and Gareth is ready.”
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Whether Zidane’s words come with a place for Bale in his first starting line-up at the Santiago Bernabeu remains to be seen, as Madrid look to rebuild following a turbulent few months.
Isco never started a single La Liga match under Solari while Marcelo increasingly found his place at left-back taken by the 22-year-old Sergio Reguilon.
“Isco wants to play and nothing else,” said Zidane, who added on Marcelo: “He has also not played much but he is a professional. We have to respect everything the previous coaches did, it is not easy, but I am happy to see Marcelo again.”
Madrid are 12 points adrift of leaders Barcelona and Zidane now has three months to assess his squad ahead of potential changes in the summer.
“I am not thinking about that, we have to think about finishing the season well,” Zidane said. “You do not have to be thinking about who stays or goes, everyone has a contract here, then we will see what happens.”
Zidane replaced Solari on Monday, returning to the club that he left only nine months ago after winning his third consecutive Champions League trophy.
“It’s like the first day again,” Zidane said. “Even if it’s not new, it will be something different, it does not have to be the same thing. I am excited to have a new adventure.”
Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have been among those linked with a move to Madrid, with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez joking on Monday, “I would like them both”.
“You are always delighted to coach the best players,” Zidane said. “We know the quality those two players have but what interests me is tomorrow’s game, nothing more.”
Gareth Bale scored twice as Real Madrid routed Celta Vigo 6-0 on Saturday to give coach Zinedine Zidane a selection headache for the Champions League final.
With Cristiano Ronaldo again sidelined with an ankle injury, Welsh star Bale stepped into the limelight with two first-half strikes to push his case for a starting spot in the European showpiece against Liverpool in Kiev in two weeks’ time.
Bale opened his account after 13 minutes on Saturday, picking up a sweetly-timed through ball from Luka Modric to score.
His second on the half-hour mark saw him dash to the byline before tucking the ball to one side of a defender and then unleashing a sharp left-footed drive into the corner of the net.
Bale celebrated by dedicating his performance to his third son Axel Charles who was born on Tuesday.
Isco made it 3-0 after 32 minutes before Moroccan midfielder Achraf added the fourth, seven minutes into the second half.
On a miserable night for mid-table Celta, Sergi Gomez put through his own net on 74 minutes, leaving German internatonal Toni Kroos to tuck away Real’s sixth goal after 81 minutes.
Real stay in third place in the table on 75 points, 15 behind champions Barcelona and three back from city rivals Atletico with one game left to play.
Earlier Saturday, Koke’s early goal proved enough for Atletico to claim a 1-0 win at Getafe and remain on course to finish in second place.
Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak also saved a late penalty from Faycal Fajr as Diego Simeone’s men warmed up for Wednesday’s Europa League final against Marseille by denting Getafe’s hopes of playing continental football next season.
The capital club got off to a quick start in the local derby, as Koke collected Antoine Griezmann’s pass and drove a low shot into the bottom corner to score his fourth goal of the campaign in the eighth minute.
Getafe missed a chance to stay just two points adrift of seventh-placed Sevilla in the chase to qualify for the Europa League, as Fajr’s 77th-minute spot-kick was kept out by Slovenian Oblak.
Simeone admitted the challenge posed by Marseille would be different to that encountered at Getafe.
“We will face a team who are very enthusiastic, with very good attacking players. They are a team that work well at the tactical level,” said the Argentine.
Sevilla would have wrapped up a top-seven finish with victory in their derby at Real Betis, but Loren’s equaliser with nine minutes to play snatched the home team a 2-2 draw.
Managerless Sevilla, who reached this season’s Champions League quarter-finals, now have to beat Alaves next weekend to secure a spot in Europe’s second-tier competition.
Elsewhere, Samu Castillejo scored twice as Villarreal beat relegated Deportivo La Coruna 4-2 to leapfrog Betis into fifth, with Denis Cheryshev also netting a day after being recalled to the preliminary Russian World Cup squad.
Lionel Messi was thrown on as a substitute but 10-man Barcelona were relieved to escape with a draw as Celta Vigo came within a whisker of inflicting the Catalans’ first league defeat of the season on Tuesday.
Messi was introduced after an hour at the Stade Balaidos and looked to have inspired another Barca victory when Paulinho gave the visitors a 2-1 lead four minutes later.
But Sergi Roberto was sent off for preventing Iago Aspas sprinting clear and in the 82nd minute the former Liverpool striker made it 2-2, albeit with a large slice of luck given the ball brushed his hand on its way into the net.
Vigo pushed for a late winner and should have had it when substitute Lucas Boye went through one-on-one but he took too long and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen made a crucial stop.
Earlier, a superb strike from Ousmane Dembele had been cancelled out by Jonny Castro’s close-range finish as Barcelona stretched their record unbeaten run to 40 La Liga games.
They also extend their lead at the top of the table to 12 points, which could be cut to nine if Atletico Madrid beat Real Sociedad on Thursday.
With one eye on Saturday’s Copa del Rey final against Sevilla, Ernesto Valverde made several changes to his Barca starting line-up as the likes of Messi, Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic were all rested.
Ter Stegen, Philippe Coutinho and Dembele were the more established names selected and Dembele took his chance, capping an excellent attacking display with a brilliantly taken goal in the 39th minute.
Coutinho played wide to Paco Alcacer whose return ball was bouncing as Dembele controlled and sent a dipping half-volley into the corner.
On the stroke of half-time, however, Vigo were level. Andre Gomes gave the ball away and then, after the break developed, allowed Maximiliano Gomez to fire in a cross, which Castro bundled in.
Messi came on in the 60th minute for Coutinho and by the 64th, Barca were ahead.
Dembele did well to make space down the right and as goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez failed to collect, Paulinho was perfectly placed to divert towards the corner, with Alcacer perhaps even feathering a final touch.
Roberto had also been introduced on the hour, replacing Gomes, but he lasted only 11 minutes, sent off for tugging back Aspas when the striker was in on goal.
Aspas bent the resulting free-kick just over the bar but eight minutes from the end he was celebrating as Ter Stegen could only parry Emre Mor’s cross and as the ball spun up, it brushed Aspas’ chest, hand and floated into the net.
Barca were now holding on and Vigo should have won it when Aspas played Boye in behind but his team-mate was denied by Ter Stegen and the chance was lost.
Holders Barcelona will face Celta Vigo in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey as La Liga’s top five were kept apart in Tuesday’s draw.
Celta, coached by former Barca goalkeeper and assistant manager Juan Carlos Unzue, became the first side to take league points from Barca at the Camp Nou for a year on Saturday in an entertaining 2-2 draw.
The Galicians also shocked Real Madrid on their way to the semi-finals last season, but Barca, who haven’t been eliminated by any side other than Real in the Cup since 2010, remain strong favourites to make the quarter-finals once more with the second leg to come at the Camp Nou.
Real Madrid also have the security of the second leg at home against second division Numancia, who eliminated top-flight opposition in Malaga in the last 32.
Third tier Lleida Esportiu are rewarded for their remarkable comeback from 3-0 down on aggregate to beat Real Sociedad on away goals with a matchup against Atletico Madrid.
The other side from Spain’s regional third tier left in the draw, Formentera, face last season’s finalists Alaves.
Sevilla were handed an Andalusian derby at Cadiz, whilst high flying Valencia face a trip to the Canary Islands to take on Las Palmas.
Copa del Rey last 16 draw (1st legs January 2-4, 2nd legs January 9-11):
Kevin Gameiro ended Atletico Madrid’s goal drought on the road as Diego Simeone’s men ground out a 1-0 win at Celta Vigo on Sunday to leapfrog Real Madrid into third in La Liga.
Atletico’s attacking options while they wait for Diego Costa’s return in January have been much criticised in recent weeks, particularly after a 0-0 draw at Azerbaijani champions Qarabag on Wednesday left their chances of reaching the Champions League last 16 in peril.
However, on his first league start of the season, Gameiro fired home a loose ball from a corner from close range on 28 minutes.
“I’ve come through a difficult time,” Gameiro, who missed the start of the season through injury, told BeIN Sports Spain.
“Now that I am able to play, I can help the team and score goals.”
It was only the second away game in Atletico’s last six in which Los Rojiblancos have found the net and they set about to defend their lead.
“It wasn’t our best game of the season, but we won and that was the objective,” added Gameiro.
Despite the sparse crowd at Balaidos caused by the closure of a stand on security grounds, Celta swarmed forward after the break.
Jan Oblak produced fine saves to deny Iago Aspas and in stoppage time from John Guidetti, while Aspas also clipped the bar with a free-kick.
And Celta were also left furious at the referee after Atletico captain Gabi appeared to handle inside the area on the hour mark.
However, Atletico held on to maintain their unbeaten start to La Liga and move back to within six points of leaders Barcelona.
Real can move back above their city rivals and to within five points of Barca with victory at home to Eibar later on Sunday.
Earlier, Villarreal’s revival under new coach Javier Calleja continued with a 4-0 thrashing of Las Palmas.
Second-half strikes from Cedric Bakambu, Mario Gaspar and Nicola Sansone added to Ximo Navarro’s own goal helped move the Yellow Submarine up to fifth.
Manchester United’s teenage striker Marcus Rashford struck a stunning second-half free-kick to secure a 1-0 win at Celta Vigo in their Europa League semi-final, first leg on Thursday, leading to praise from his manager Jose Mourinho.
The victory puts United on course for this month’s final with Ajax Amsterdam – the most likely opponents after they beat visitors Olympique Lyonnais 4-1 in their first leg on Wednesday.
Celta keeper Sergio Alvarez had denied United several times but was powerless to stop Rashford’s 67th minute strike soaring into the net after the striker had won the free-kick.
“He worked really hard and created them problems. He had a fantastic shot in the first half with that beautiful save, and then the free kick is (a result of) work,” Mourinho said of Rashford’s performance.
“He works every day, he loves to work, sometimes the training session finishes for the group and he keeps doing his individual work with my assistant, so the free-kick is really well taken, I think the goalkeeper has no chance because the ball was really fast.”
Despite the victory coach Jose Mourinho was frustrated with his side’s inability to take their chances and knows there is still a job to do in the return leg at Old Trafford next week.
“It was a small margin for victory, it could have been better, 0-1 is a small margin and seeing Celta Vigo’s trajectory in the Europa League, they definitely deserve respect for the away match,” he said.
Three-times European champions United had never reached the last four of the Europa League or its predecessor the UEFA Cup, while Celta were in their first major continental semi-final.
United’s victory was slightly soured when 19-year-old Rashford hobbled off 10 minutes from time clutching his knee.
Celta Vigo coach Eduardo Berizzo said his side had played well against a much stronger opponent and could still switch the tie around with an upset at Old Trafford.
Berizzo said, “We have competed equally with a great rival who has lost of passion, who play as a unit. But I think we kept the passion in our game and we want our attack to be liberated in the next match, but my feeling is that we have truly competed today, so we hope to do something great in the away match.”
John Guidettisays Celta Vigo will paint the sky blue as they prepare to take on Manchester United in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final.
The former Manchester City forward expressed determination that his side would “keep the city blue” when they face Jose Mourinho’s men on Thursday.
He told Uefa.com that although United have a fantastic squad with a very good manager, he said Celta Vigo are up to the task.
Guidetti added that it is obvious the English side are eager to play the Champions League next season, stressing that it will be a tough one for both teams.
“[United are] a very good team. Obviously they’ve got a good manager, a fantastic stadium, and they’re one of the favourites to win the Europa League; but as they say “Manchester is blue” and that’s how it will be when we visit there as well, because we are Celta Vigo and we will try to keep the city blue.
“We know how much is at stake for Manchester United, they also want to play in the Champions League next year. So this is a tournament that they want to win, but we also want to win it; both the home and away legs will be like two finals,” he said.