La Liga: Barcelona march ahead as champions Real lose grip

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Lionel Messi and Paulinho

Bengaluru, January 7: Barcelona took a giant step towards reclaiming the La Liga title with a facile 3-0 win against Legante while champions Real Madrid were held to a 2-2 draw by Celta Vigo.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez each scored in a routine if underwhelming win at home with Paulinho increasing their lead in added time.

Record signing Philippe Coutinho did not attend the game after completing his 142-million-pound ($192.67-million) move from Liverpool to Barca on Saturday although Ousmane Dembele made his first league start in more than three months.

Messi was back in the starting line-up after missing the King's Cup draw with Celta Vigo on Thursday and marked his 400th game in La Liga by opening the scoring in the 12th minute, volleying Jordi Alba's cushioned header into the net.

Suarez struck his fifth goal in four games running by controlling a cross from Sergi Roberto and slamming the ball high into the net in the 38th minute.

Barca relaxed a little after the break but Brazilian international Paulinho added an extra shine to the win by tapping in as the game drew to a close, netting for the seventh time in the Liga, making him the top-scoring midfielder in the Spanish top flight.

The Catalans lead the La Liga table with 48 points from 18 games, nine ahead of Atletico Madrid, who beat Getafe 2-0 in the match which saw Diego Costa returning to his old club, scoring and then being sent off.

Costa, playing his first La Liga game since rejoining Atletico from Chelsea following the end last week of the Spanish club's transfer ban, had already been booked for a foul in the 62nd minute with the hosts 1-0 up through Angel Correa when six minutes later he met a low cross to double his side's lead and spark wild celebrations.

He leapt into the stands to embrace the fans and was immediately shown his second yellow card.

Valencia, who beat Girona 2-1 are third in the table while Real are a distant fourth after the Celta stalemate.

With Karim Benzema injured, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo started together for the first time since late September.

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Real were without the injured Sergio Ramos and the suspended Dani Carvajal and their makeshift defence was exposed when Daniel Wass put the hosts ahead in the 33rd minute.

The Dane was afforded acres of space although his chipped finish over Keylor Navas from the edge of the box was still a delight.

And it was Bale who quickly turned the game around, slotting home from a fine weighted pass by Toni Kroos in the 36th minute and then beating the offside trap to prod in an Isco pass two minutes later.

However, Celta fought back after the break to claim a deserved point.

Iago Aspas saw a 72nd-minute penalty saved by Navas after he had been fouled by the Costa Rican goalkeeper, but Maxi Gomez rose unmarked to head in a Wass cross eight minutes from time.

Zinedine Zidane's side do still have a game in hand on the sides above them, but they are now only one point further away from the relegation zone than they are from Barcelona.

(With Agency/La Liga inputs)

Story first published: Monday, January 8, 2018, 11:06 [IST]
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