Messi brilliance rescues Barcelona
A stunning free-kick from Lionel Messi gave Barcelona a late 2-1 win at home to Athletic Bilbao which kept their La Liga title hopes alive.
A crowd of barely more than 30,000 suggested the locals had already made their mind up about the under-pressure Gerardo Martino, and his players did not do much to make his case as they struggled to muster their usual cutting edge until they had fallen behind.
Aritz Aduriz had already missed two outstanding chances to score before he put Bilbao ahead in the 50th minute, and it was not until the 72nd that Barca found a somewhat fortunate equaliser through Pedro.
Having done that, they needed only two minutes for Lionel Messi to give them the lead as he powered home a set-piece from just outside the box. Even so, this was far from vintage stuff from Barca, who move back up into second above Real Madrid -- who were given the weekend off ahead of their Champions League semifinal with Bayern Munich.
Sevilla warmed up for their Europa League semifinal against Valencia next week with an emphatic 4-0 win over Andalusian rivals Granada.
The visitors made a bright start to the game but went behind within a quarter of an hour due to an unfortunate own goal by Diego Mainz.
Lucas Alcaraz' side survived the rest of the first half but succumbed to the hosts after the break, with Kevin Gameiro, Stephane M'Bia and Vitolo all scoring in the space of 17 minutes.
The win sees Sevilla keep the pressure on Athletic Bilbao in fourth spot, and knocks Granada back down to earth after the euphoria of their surprise win over Barcelona the previous week. Fortunately for Alcaraz's side, their rivals to avoid the drop also endured a tough weekend, and they stay 14th in the table.
Rayo Vallecano continued their march towards safety with a convincing 3-1 win over whipping boys Real Betis, who look more doomed than ever.
The tone of the afternoon was set when Betis defender Paulao mis-hit a back-pass towards his goalkeeper to gift Ruben Rochina the opening goal on 14 minutes, and things got even worse for the Brazilian when he diverted a cross into his own net shortly before the half-hour mark.
Joaquin Larrivey made sure of the points with a third goal early in the second half, although Javi Chica got one back for beleaguered Betis with 12 minutes remaining.
Rayo's fifth consecutive home win sees Paco Jemez's side move on to 40 points, half of which have been earned in their last nine matches. Betis, meanwhile, remain 10 points adrift of safety and could be relegated to the Segunda Division as soon as next week.
Almeria's relegation fears deepened as they slumped to a 4-2 home defeat to Celta Vigo.
The visitors struck three times in the second half through Charles, Nolito -- his second of the match -- and Fabian Orellana to take the game away from their opponents.
Rodri had cancelled out Nolito's opener to send Almeria in level at the break, but they were overwhelmed thereafter, with Oscar Diaz's strike coming too late to influence the outcome.