Barcelona survive derby, Atletico beat Valencia in La Liga

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Madrid, Feb 5 (IANS) Atletico Madrid rode on Angel Correa’s goal to beat Valencia 1-0 to trail La Liga leaders FC Barcelona by nine points after the latter dropped two points following a 1-1 draw against neighbours Espanyol.

Correa struck from outside the box as he salvaged a scoreless tie to Atletico Madrid’s advantage on Sunday, downing the visiting Valencia 1-0 in front of 50,000 home fans at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium here, reports Efe.

Atletico narrowed the gap with Barcelona in Spanish La Liga to “only” nine points after Gerard Pique fended off the team’s first league loss of the season by squeaking through with a 1-1 draw against Espanyol. Atletico have a nine-point lead over Valencia, who have 40 points.

Although Stefan Savic and Diego Godin went down to injury in Sunday’s contest, Correa managed to set up a stunning blast into the top corner from middle-distance right by goaltender Neto in the 60th minute.

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Valencia deserved the loss, one could argue, since the squad did not manage to put a single shot on goal during the entire match.

Atletico kept Neto busy during the outing and despite the loss of Savic in the first half and Godin early in the second they stuck with the job at hand. Koke passed to Correa, who whirled away from the defenders and fired one right on target and just out of reach of the goaltender, although he was not able to repeat that performance when he had another chance some 15 minutes later.

In the Barcelona derby, Gerard Moreno got Espanyol on the scoreboard 66 minutes into the match, while Pique scored the equaliser with eight minutes to go before the second-half stoppage time.

Espanyol earned their first point in the last three matches, after losing to Leganes and Sevilla in the previous two rounds.

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The home team changed their strategy, compared to the last two matches against Barcelona, rushing on the attack, but Espanyol posed no real danger to the visitors’ goal.

Initially, Barcelona, with Argentine star Lionel Messi on the bench, struggled to threaten Espanyol’s goal, but as the hosts eased up their pressure, the visitors played more comfortably.

Former Espanyol player Philippe Coutinho had Barcelona’s first chance, blasting a shot into the cross bar in the 22nd minute.

The home team reacted immediately, with Leo Baptistao firing a shot that goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen blocked.

With 15 minutes to go before the first-half stoppage time, Espanyol had more opportunities, especially from Baptistao, without being able to break the scoreless deadlock.

Baptistao’s momentum continued after the break, scoring a goal that the official annulled.

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Despite taking control, Barcelona missed Messi, who was brought in 13 minutes into the second half.

Just nine minutes later, however, Moreno scored Espanyol’s first goal with a header off Sergio Garcia’s cross.

Seeking more depth, Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde brought in Jordi Alba with the rain affecting Messi and Luis Suarez’s performance.

During the last 10 minutes, Espanyol took their foot off the gas, opening the door for Barcelona to push them with long balls, crosses and corner kicks.

Pique managed to score the equaliser with a header off a cross from Messi on a free kick in the 82nd minute.

Meanwhile, Girona continued to make history after blanking Athletic Club 2-0 on two tallies by Cristhian Stuani on Sunday.

At Montilivi stadium, the Bilbao club saw its 10-game streak without a loss brought to an end.

–IANS

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