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Cristiano Ronaldo rescues Real Madrid, Barcelona stay in the title hunt

Five things from the weekend in La Liga, as Real Madrid remain in control of the title race, Barcelona keep up the challenge and Sporting Gijon's relegation is confirmed.

1. Ronaldo makes key late contribution

There were plenty of nerves around the Santiago Bernabeu with less than a quarter of an hour remaining on Sunday evening. Real Madrid were 2-1 up against Sevilla, but the visitors had already hit the woodwork twice, and were threatening to throw a spanner in works of Madrid's title dream.

Then Cristiano Ronaldo contorted his body and speared a clinical 15 yard left foot shot into the top corner, and the Bernabeu could breathe again. It was one of the best goals at the stadium all season, his second of the game, 401st in 391 games, and a perfectly timed intervention. Ronaldo had scored just two La Liga goals through March and April, but has now made a vital contribution to their late title push.

Having been rested regularly for domestic games by coach Zinedine Zidane through recent weeks to concentrate on firing Madrid to the Champions League final, Ronaldo has just 22 goals in his 27 La Liga appearances this season. That puts him third in the Pichichi top scorers race, and a full 13 adrift of leader Lionel Messi.

That individual honour should matter for little though. Ronaldo already has three Pichichis in his personal museum in Madeira. And if Madrid take four points from their two games this week he will have a second La Liga winners' medal to put alongside them.

2. Barca paying for strange away form

There was little doubt that Barcelona would win at Las Palmas on Sunday, given the Canary Islanders' have been "on the beach" already for a couple of months, and the 4-1 scoreline was more or less expected.

Barca's title fate is out of their own hands, at least partly due to their odd away form. Luis Enrique's side have won at the five of the historically most difficult grounds to visit -- at the Bernabeu last month, and earlier at the Vicente Calderon, San Mames, Mestalla and the Sanchez Pizjuan. But barring a late turnaround now, they look set to pay for slip ups at "smaller" opponents where they would usually expect to win.

Ironically, the Blaugrana outfit were beaten at both Balaidos in October, and most painfully at La Rosaleda last month. And they now need to hope that Madrid lose at either Celta or Malaga [or draw both games] to open up a chance for celebrations at the Camp Nou next weekend.

3. Atletico confirm third spot again

Atletico Madrid's 1-1 draw at Real Betis on Sunday afternoon was enough to secure third spot for Diego Simeone's side, and means they will have finished third in four of the Argentine's five full seasons in charge (with the odd one out being their still amazing 2013-14 title win.)

Each August, Simeone sets third as the target for his squad, meaning it is again mission accomplished this term despite their continuing pain against the neighbours Madrid in Europe. It was an especially important objective this year, to remove any doubt about Champions League football at their new Wanda Metropolitano home next season, as the extra money will be very useful to pay for the move.

Sunday's game was also useful for Simeone to see Betis youngster Dani Ceballos, who has been widely linked with a €12 million move this summer, up close. The Spain Under 21 playmaker smashed in the opener from 20 yards on Sunday and, should Atletico get their current FIFA transfer ban lifted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, he could well be lining up at the Wanda next year.

4. Europa League picture no clearer

The Europa League qualification picture is no clearer after Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad all drew their games on Sunday evening.

Villarreal are still fifth on 64 points after their goalless draw at home to Deportivo La Coruna, while Athletic and Real Sociedad are on 63 after a 1-1 at home to Leganes and 2-2 at home to Malaga respectively.

All three teams must now go out to win next weekend, with head-to-head record very likely to play a part in deciding the final finishing order. They all still know though that seventh place will still get the final Europa League qualifying spot should outsiders Alaves not shock Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final on May 28.

So most likely all three squads will be playing to get some extra weeks of summer holidays.

5. Sporting down as Depor and Leganes confirm survival

Sporting Gijon did what they could on Sunday, winning 1-0 at Eibar, but results elsewhere meant the Asturians join Osasuna and Granada in being relegated to the Segunda Division for next season.

Deportivo's 0-0 at Villarreal gave them the point they needed to get to 33 -- and their head-to-head advantage over Sporting meant they could celebrate another escape from the drop.

The party at Leganes was even bigger as they got the point in Bilbao they needed to ensure that their first ever top flight campaign will be a success. "Lega" do not have the history or infrastructure of either Sporting (or Granada or Osasuna for that matter), but the club is run much better off the field, and the suburban Madrid team now could go on to progress and consolidate their position at this level.

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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