Barcelona were held to a 0-0 home draw by nine-man Malaga on Saturday before Real Madrid secured an impressive 3-0 derby win over Atletico Madrid courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick.
The champions controlled proceedings, but looked short of inspiration in the final third in absence of the suspended Luis Suarez and the ill Lionel Messi.
Juande Ramos set out his side with a back three and two ultra-defensive wing-backs, a system that kept Barca’s static forward line frustrated for long spells even though the visitors enjoyed less than 20 per cent of the ball.
Carlos Kameni was in fine form when Barca did breach the visiting rearguard, making superb saves to deny Rafinha, Gerard Pique and Neymar, although Malaga were fortunate not to concede a penalty following a clash between Arda Turan and Federico Ricca.
Diego Llorente was controversially sent off midway through the second half for a heavy challenge on Neymar, but despite their numerical advantage, some sublime tricks from the Brazilian and a last-minute red card for Juankar, the three points proved elusive for Luis Enrique’s side.
The result means Barca are four points adrift of league leaders Madrid who ended their derby hoodoo against Atletico Madrid courtesy a devastating display by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Los Blancos had not defeated their neighbours in six games but the Portuguese’s inperious performance in front of goal saw the La Liga leaders to a comprehensive win at Vicente Calderon.
Ronaldo grabbed his first from a deflected free-kick before adding his second via the penalty spot, with Gareth Bale setting up his third with a perfect cross after a lightning counter-attack.
Atletico started with Antoine Griezmann in attack, despite concerns over a foot injury, but the France star was barely involved as Diego Simeone’s side slumped to a damaging defeat in the final LaLiga meeting with their city rivals at the Calderon.
Madrid lined up in a 4-4-2, with Ronaldo playing just ahead of Isco and Bale and Lucas Vazquez deployed out wide, and their shape appeared to have Atleti flummoxed as they struggled to keep possession or make any inroads on the break in the first half.
Ronaldo brought the first save of the match from Jan Oblak, his header from Marcelo’s deep crossing forcing the Slovenia international to claw the ball superbly off the line low to his left.
Madrid were pressing well from the front and Luka Modric brought another good low stop from Oblak after first Ronaldo and then Bale had won back possession close to the Atletico area.
With 23 minutes played, Madrid found the breakthrough. Ronaldo’s 30-yard free-kick from a central position glanced off Savic in the Atletico wall and bounced past the wrong-footed Oblak and into the net.
Madrid looked comfortable in their 4-4-2 set-up, while Atletico for once seemed unsettled by a tactical switch-up from their opponents, and Ronaldo missed a good chance to double the visitors’ lead when he spun into space following Isco’s pass only to shoot straight at Oblak.
The home side looked invigorated after the interval, however. Yannick Ferreira Carrasco’s shot had Keylor Navas scrambling before Griezmann twice had the Madrid keeper worried, first drilling across goal and out before testing his handling with a dipping strike from distance.
Simeone introduced Angel Correa and Kevin Gameiro from the bench to create a front three alongside Griezmann, but it was Madrid who came closest to a second, with Isco’s low shot from the edge of the area pushed around the right-hand post by Oblak.
And a minute later, Atleti offered the visitors the chance for the killing blow. Savic slipped while trying to clear the ball and proceeded to trip Ronaldo as he closed him down, allowing the Portugal skipper to step up and sweep home from the penalty spot into Oblak’s bottom-right corner.
Atleti pushed forward in search of a lifeline and, six minutes later, they were undone by a brilliant counter-attack. Bale surged into the Atletico box and cut the ball back across goal for Ronaldo, who could not miss from three yards out at the far post.
Zinedine Zidane brought off his star forward seven minutes to play, with the points secured and the title race now firmly in their hands.
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