Barcelona, 6 July 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Real Madrid moved a step closer to winning La Liga for the first time since 2017 with a 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, staying four points clear of Barcelona, who later won 4-1 at Villarreal.
Madrid captain Sergio Ramos slotted home the winning goal from the penalty spot, just as he did in Madrid’s previous game against Getafe, after Marcelo was fouled by Dani Garcia.
Zinedine Zidane’s side have one hand on the title with four matches remaining, and an easier fixture list than reigning champions Barcelona.
Karim Benzema came close in the opening stages when he headed off-target from close range, while Inaki Williams was denied by Thibaut Courtois at the other end.
Rodrygo Goes and Benzema missed further chances for Madrid in a surprisingly open first period, while Courtois parried a Raul Garcia header.
Athletic faded in the second half and Madrid started turning the screw, and their pressure paid off when Garcia stood on Marcelo’s foot in the 73rd minute in the box and a penalty was awarded after a referral to the video assistant referee (VAR).
Ramos drilled the spot-kick beyond the reach of Unai Simon, his 10th goal of the season.
At the other end Ramos appeared to tread on the foot of Raul Garcia but no penalty was given despite Athletic complaints.
“Raul Garcia’s been stamped on and they haven’t even reviewed it [on VAR], that’s the difference,” said Athletic captain Iker Muniain.
“We’ve seen which side they decide things in favour of, let everyone reach their own conclusions.”
Madrid saw out the rest of the match comfortably.
Athletic’s defeat leaves them eighth, two points behind rivals Real Sociedad in seventh, hampering their bid for a Europa League qualifying spot.
Barcelona ended a testing week with a win that keeps them alive in the hunt for the title race, even though the odds are against them.
Barcelona took a third-minute lead when Pau Torres turned Jordi Alba’s cross into his own net under pressure from Antoine Griezmann, restored to the side after being benched against Atletico Madrid.
Villarreal, fifth, pulled level after 13 minutes when Gerard Moreno finished from close range at the end of a fast breakaway.
Luis Suarez netted a glorious second from Messi’s pass to put Barcelona back ahead, curling into the top corner after being fed by his strike partner.
Arturo Vidal then spurned a golden chance after being fed by Messi, lashing the ball straight at Sergio Asenjo.
However Barcelona added the third just before half-time when Griezmann collected Messi’s backheel and finished with a sensational chip from the edge of the box.
It was the best half of play Barcelona had constructed since Quique Setien took over in January, which might stand the team in good stead for the Champions League but their title hopes are still faint.
Messi and Alba came close in the second half, with the Argentine also seeing a goal of his own ruled out for offside, before teenage substitute Ansu Fati drilled in the fourth to round off the comprehensive win.
“The three points were important to stay in the fight and the way we played is important too for us, we had a great game, we have to continue in this way,” said Barcelona defender Gerard Pique.
“Griezmann scoring is important for his confidence, we’re prepared for the next game which is against Espanyol.”
Jonathan Silva’s strike helped Leganes keep their slim survival hopes alive with a 1-0 win over bottom of the table Espanyol, which virtually consigned their opponents to relegation.
Jonathan Calleri was sent off for Espanyol late on and his team are four points adrift of Leganes, 19th, and 11 points from safety with four games to go.
If Eibar beat Sevilla on Sunday they would relegate the Catalan side. Leganes are seven points from safety. Osasuna drew 0-0 with Getafe.