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Season Review: Barcelona

Barcelona
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Atletico beat Real Madrid, Barcelona win again, Gary Neville angry with ref

ESPN FC's Paul Mariner breaks down Barcelona's 2-1 win over Sevilla in La Liga, extending their unbeaten run to 34 games.

Five thoughts from another weekend of La Liga action, as Barcelona won again and Atletico continued their fine form over rivals Real Madrid.

1. Barca pretty well set

Barcelona's 2-1 win over Sevilla on Sunday evening was another step towards what looks an inevitable title victory.

Sevilla shocked the Camp Nou by going ahead early through winger Vitolo, and were still in with a chance late in the game even after Lionel Messi's eighth converted free kick of the season and Gerard Pique's close range finish from a corner.

But Barca deserved to win -- again -- and now have an eight point advantage on second placed Atletico Madrid, and are 12 ahead of Real Madrid back in third, with 12 games left to play.

Afterwards Luis Enrique paid tribute to Unai Emery's well coached Sevilla side, who Barca face in the Copa del Rey final in May, and claimed his team's 34 unbeaten run [including games against all other 19 La Liga sides] meant "zero" at this stage. After being pressed a couple of times, he eventually admitted things were looking good.

"We're in an unimprovable position as we head towards the decisive part of the season," the Blaugrana coach said, not unreasonably.

2. Madrid's big names already positioning themselves summer battles

Real Madrid's 1-0 defeat at home to historically inferior neighbours Atletico Madrid has thrown up further doubts about the futures of Los Blancos superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, coach Zinedine Zidane and even president Florentino Perez.

After missing his team's two best chances during the game, Ronaldo defended himself afterwards in the mixed zone by questioning the quality of some of his teammates. "If all the players had my level, we would be first in the table, maybe," were the comments which set off alarms all around the Bernabeu.

After a prod by club captain Sergio Ramos, Ronaldo "clarified" his comments afterwards, and frustration with the club's medical staff was likely partly to blame for the outburst. Nevertheless, the image was of a club split into different factions and preparing for an inevitably bloody internal battle at the end of the season.

While Ronaldo was speaking, elsewhere in the Bernabeu press area Zidane all but accepted Madrid's La Liga challenge was over, while saying "changes" were needed in a squad which was not "mentally prepared" to take on Atletico.

The summer's changes could also go as far up as club chief Perez -- with many socios again loudly calling for his resignation on Saturday. Perez kept his counsel over the weekend but all sides are already positioning themselves for the fallout should their season not be rescued by Champions League success.

3. Winning at Bernabeu now normal for Simeone's Atletico

By contrast, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone just about managed to stop himself dancing for joy during his postmatch news conference on Saturday, with his team having moved four points ahead in the "best of the rest" race behind Barca.

Atletico famously went 14 years without a win over their neighbours from 1999 to the 2013 Copa del Rey final, but are now unbeaten in six in La Liga derbis and looked a much more organised and focused side.

Simeone has now beaten Madrid teams coached by Zidane, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu, and the former Atletico midfielder said it was no longer such a big deal for his side to beat Madrid in their own ground.

"We take it naturally, to be able to win here," Simeone said. "Football is marvellous -- it has these things that are hard to explain. Once again, the Atletico Madrid fans can feel proud of their players. The truth is we are very happy to be part of Atletico."

Simeone also accepted that catching Barca was very unlikely, but he and his team are more than happy with second place and being top dogs in the capital.

4. Dose of reality for Neville and Valencia

For the first 73 minutes, Valencia against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday afternoon was a pretty even game between two teams that had been rotated heavily amid a busy schedule.

Valencia were looking like the most likely winner, with Alvaro Negredo having missed the game's best chance, and Gary Neville's team having had a goal ruled out for offside before a decent penalty shout was turned down.

Speaking afterwards, Neville blamed referee Jesus Gil Manzano for a "joke" of a performance -- but more realistically the game hinged on late substitutions made by both coaches.

Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde sending on top scorer Aritz Aduriz, and Neville taking off holding midfielder Enzo Perez, made quite a difference. The visitors scored three times in just seven minutes, through Sabin Marino, Iker Muniain and Aduriz, with each goal coming from pretty basic errors as the home team completely lost their defensive shape.

Four recent wins on the trot against Espanyol, Granada and Rapid Vienna [twice] had Valencia fans happier, and the local media talking about Neville staying on as coach for next season. But the Mestalla was rocked back to reality by their latest painful home loss.

5. Getafe on slide/Leganes on up

Getafe's 1-0 home defeat to Celta Vigo on Saturday evening was the Madrid-based side's sixth straight defeat and fifth consecutive game without scoring.

Coach Fran Escriba admitted afterwards that "we are very down about this run. The dressing-room was totally quiet -- you could hear nothing." His team are now just two points above the drop zone and their stretch in the top flight of over a decade looks very much in danger.

Elsewhere in the southern outskirts of the Spanish capital, Leganes beat Alaves 2-0 in Sunday lunchtime's top of the table clash to go clear at the summit of the Segunda Division. In 87 years of history Los Pepineros have never been so high in the table. And they could well replace their suburban neighbours in the Primera Division next season.

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

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