Jamie Mata

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La Liga: VAR saves Barcelona, Atletico defense breached again

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Lionel Messi has saved Barcelona’s bacon on plenty of occasions throughout his illustrious career, and while officially today he’s once again led the club to three points with his 81st minute penalty to earn a 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad, VAR was the true hidden hero.

Replay caught Robin Le Normand miss with a headed clearance in the box, instead the ball just catching him in the shoulder, and the referee in the booth called for a penalty. Messi dispatched the spot-kick to earn the win and doom La Real to a harsh result. Still, Barcelona completely dominated the match ripping of 13 shots with six on target to Real Sociedad’s just one shot on frame.

Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard was kept relatively in check by Barcelona’s midfield while Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong were calming forces throughout for the home side. The three points sends Barcelona top of the La Liga table, with Real Madrid a chance to reclaim the lead tomorrow at Real Betis.

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid was held to a third draw in its last four league games with a 2-2 home result against Sevilla, with the defense breached for the fourth straight match. Luuk De Jong put Sevilla up at the Wanda Metripolitano 19 minutes in after a miserable challenge from Stefan Savic saw the Dutchman’s first touch put him through. A penalty from Alvaro Morata brought Atletico back level past the half-hour mark, and they went in front just four minutes later through Joao Felix after Koke stole the ball in midfield and did all the hard work on the break.

Still, it wasn’t enough as Lucas Ocampos struck from the penalty spot just before halftime and the second half was goalless to see Atletico fall a full 13 points back of the La Liga leaders, potentially 14 back if Real Madrid wins tomorrow. Currently, that’s just good enough for fifth as Atletico Madrid sits outside the Champions League places. Sevilla, meanwhile, sits in third on 47 points, 11 back of the leader.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid youngster Takefusa Kubo gave Mallorca a 2-1 win over Eibar. The 18-year-old’s 78th minute goal proved the winner as he beat two defenders at the top of the box and delivered a low effort off the inside of the left post. The win was enormous for Mallorca who rose to 18th, still in a relegation position but only based on goal differential. Eibar sits in 16th just two points ahead of the drop.

Getafe and Celta Vigo played to a scoreless draw at Coliseum Alfonso Perez as the hosts ripped off 16 shots to Celta Vigo’s three but could not find the back of the net. Jamie Mata missed the biggest chance for Getafe just past the half-hour mark as he fired over from a central spot just outside the six-yard box. Getafe midfielder Mauro Arambarri was sent off for a second yellow card with eight minutes to go as the hosts looked for a winner, making the late push even more difficult. The draw is a disappointing result for fourth-placed Getafe who could have used the opportunity to pull away from Atletico Madrid after their draw against Sevilla. For Celta Vigo, the point is enormous amidst a relegation battle, sitting in 17th now two points above the drop.

La Liga: Morata double helps Atletico Madrid keep La Liga pace

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A pair of Alvaro Morata headers was all Atletico Madrid needed to move past Real Sociedad 2-0 and keep pace with Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table.

Morata scored his brace three minutes apart just past the half-hour mark, setting Atleti up for the rest of the match. They would fall a man down on 61 minutes as Koke earned his second yellow card, but they held on for not just the win but the clean sheet as well. Thanks in large part to the half-hour man advantage, Real Sociedad out-shot Madrid 19-8, but could only muster three on target.

The win leaves Atleti seven behind Barcelona, but keeps pace with the La Liga leaders with 12 matches to go. Atletico has won three games in a row and has the club’s third three-match league winning streak since the start of December after failing to generate one at all before that time.

Leandro Cabrera headed Getafe into the lead 20 minutes in, and Jaime Mata put the game away just before halftime in a 2-1 road win at Real Betis to keep the visitors in a Champions League place. While Betis held 65% of the possession, they managed just six total shots, with only two on target.

Eibar picked up all three points as Sergi Enrich scored in the 87th minute to secure a 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo. The home side completely dominated the match, pummeling relegation-threatened Celta Vigo with 15 shots, coming close multiple times in the second half including a 67th minute penalty miss by Charles before the late winner when Marc Cardona did all the hard work weaving through defenders down the left before his blocked shot fell right to Enrich on the doorstep for the tap-in.

The win does more harm to Celta Vigo than help Eibar, as the visitors are still just two points above the relegation zone. Eibar, meanwhile, sits in no-man’s land in ninth, eight back of a Champions League place and 11 above the drop.

Finally, in the late Sunday game, a timid first-half between Valencia and Athletic Bilbao gave way to a 2-0 win for the hosts as Rodrigo scored just after the break and Kevin Gameiro finished it off late. The victory moved Valencia up to seventh just a point behind Sevilla.

La Liga: Messi hat-trick, Getafe goes 4th

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Lionel Messi was the star of La Liga’s Sunday slate, scoring the 50th hat-trick of his career as he single-handedly carried Barcelona to a 4-2 victory over Sevilla to move 10 points clear at the top of the table.

Messi scored a pair of absurd goals and finished his hat-trick with the eventual winner, before Luis Suarez finally ended his long goal drought in stoppage time to finish the scoreline. The first was especially delicious, an inspired side-volley that powered home a cross from Ivan Rakitic.

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It wasn’t always a sure thing for Barcelona, who trailed at two different points in the match, including at halftime when goals from Jesus Navas and Gabriel Mercado saw Sevilla ahead. Messi’s second brought Barcelona level past the hour mark when he curled in a right-footed effort from near the top of the box. The winner came five minutes from full-time as a stroke of luck saw Carles Alena’s shot clatter into Sevilla defender Simon Kjaer and trickled perfectly into the path of Messi clean through on goal for a chip finish past Tomas Vaclik.

Meanwhile, the La Liga Champions League places has a surprising new member as Getafe moved to 4th in the league with a 2-1 win over relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano. Jamie Mata and Jorge Molina scored the necessary goals, moving Getafe into what would be its highest-ever La Liga finish. Mata in particular is red-hot, scoring his seventh goal in the club’s last eight league games. Mata then assisted Molina’s winner, giving him four assists in that span as well, and helping the club to its fourth win in the last six matches. Getafe has lost just two games since mid-November – to Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

Relegated in 2016 and then promoted back to La Liga the following year, Getafe finished 8th last season and continues to climb, potentially qualifying for European competition for only the third time in club history. A 6th place finish in 2010 remains its best-ever league result, while a 2007 Copa del Rey finals appearance marked the first time they ever qualified for a continental competition.

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Celta Vigo pulled out of the relegation zone with a grinding away point at Alaves as the two teams drew 0-0. The home side whipped off 17 shots, but could only put four of them on target. Celta Vigo proved dangerous one-on-one, but could never put together anything of note. The biggest chance of the game fell to Takashi Inui just past halftime but missed wide right, and while they accumulated a ton of chances inside the penalty area, they could never find the winning moment.

Finally, Athletic Bilbao leapfrogged Eibar for the ninth spot in the table after a 1-0 win over Eibar. The only goal came inside the first minute, with Raul Garcia pouncing immediately after the opening whistle. That was it for the match, as the two sides were only able to accumulate five total shots on target. Athletic should have had a second soon after halftime, but Inigo Martinez was unable to put his doorstep header on target.