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Barcelona take advantage as Real Madrid and Atletico drop points

Five thoughts from another weekend of La Liga action, as Barcelona took the title advantage with Real and Atletico dropping points, while Gary Neville's good form continued.

1. Great weekend for Barcelona

Barcelona were the only team in La Liga's top five to win in what looks like being a key weekend in the title race. Not that they had it easy on Saturday afternoon in wet and windy conditions at the Estadio de Gran Canaria, where Las Palmas were the better side for long periods and had more shots over the 90 minutes [16-13].

But even with midfield anchor Sergio Busquets suspended, and defensive leader Gerard Pique rested, Luis Suarez scored one goal and made another for Neymar as Barca did enough to win 2-1 and stretch their unbeaten run to 32 games in all competitions.

Suarez, who now has 41 goals in all competitions so far this season and 15 in his last nine appearances, told Spanish TV afterwards that "we suffered but got the three points. These are the games that win you titles."

Pique was also missing when Barca won 2-1 at Malaga a few weeks' back, and his team also suffered that day too. But Luis Enrique's men keep finding a way to win and look pretty unstoppable at the moment.

2. Madrid all but out of title race now

Real Madrid's 1-1 draw at Malaga on Saturday afternoon was not that different -- but Zinedine Zidane's side could not force the win they needed to stay in the title race.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a first half header [while offside] and soon afterwards missed a penalty. After the break, centre-back Raul Albentosa (on-loan from Derby County) got what was a deserved equaliser for Javi Gracia's well organised side.

Away form has been the problem for Madrid all season, under both Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane, and they have dropped four points in the Frenchman's first three trips away from their Bernabeu. Madrid's players seem to be enjoying themselves more since the change of the coach, but the team's performances and results are pretty similar.

Los Blancos are now nine points behind leaders Barcelona, and no La Liga team has ever made up such a gap with just 13 games remaining.

"You might think La Liga is over, but I do not, and the players do not either," Zidane said afterwards. "We will never drop our hands. There are lots of points still to play for. So we will keep going."

The most famous comeback in recent history was in 2003-04 when a Madrid team featuring Zidane lost an eight point lead and were caught by Benitez's Valencia -- although that is not something Madrid president Florentino Perez will want to dwell on right on.

3. Atletico were never in the title race anyway

Atletico Madrid remain in second place in the table after their 0-0 draw at home to fourth placed Villarreal on Sunday evening, eight points behind Barca, but coach Diego Simeone claims his team were never really in the title race anyway.

Two well-organised teams cancelled each other out at the Vicente Calderon, in a tight, tactical game of few clear chances. Both Simeone and Villarreal counterpart Marcelino Garcia Toral appeared to have one eye on this week's Champions League and Europa League games, and neither was too unhappy with the point apiece at the end.

"Everything in life depends on how you view it," the Argentine said afterwards when asked if his side were now too far behind Barca. "We are six points ahead of Villarreal and for us that is positive. We are well set to achieve our objectives from the start of the season. Barcelona are different from all the rest of us."

Simeone seemed to be suggesting that, given Barca's strength, this season's title race was really over almost before it had begun.

4. Pressure off Neville at Valencia

The pressure is now off Gary Neville at Valencia after a third win in eight days in Sunday evening's slightly fortunate 2-1 victory at Granada.

Neville made six changes from Thursday's 6-0 Europa League win over Rapid Vienna, and his team looked shaky at the back at times. But one of those retained -- midfield playmaker Dani Parejo -- drilled in to finish off a lovely team move just after half-time in what was the game's key moment.

It seemed Neville and Parejo would have problems when the former Real Madrid youth team star was stripped of the captaincy last month, but he has actually been liberated by the move and now looks close to his best form. "It's been a fantastic week," Parejo said on Spanish TV afterwards. "We needed it."

This looks an example of short-term pain for long-term gain from the former Manchester United defender, who can now relax a bit even if it still seems unlikely he'll be in the post beyond the summer.

5. Real Sociedad on the charge

Real Sociedad edged a typically tight Basque derby at San Mames on Sunday night, with the game featuring 12 bookings but just one goal -- lashed in from the edge of the area from La Real striker Jonathas.

The San Sebastian-based side have now won their last four games on the trot, and joined the hunt for a Europa League qualification spot.

They have taken 24 points from 14 games since Eusebio Sacristan replaced David Moyes as coach last November, when the team were just two points off the bottom of the table.

"I have to thank the boss Eusebio, we're moving upwards," said match winner Jonathas after the game.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan


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