De­fen­sive prob­lems

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -

Madrid, Spain - Barcelona were pegged back by La Liga’s bot­tom club Es­panyol on Satur­day as Wu Lei struck late to se­cure a dra­matic 2-2 draw in a thrilling Cata­lan derby.

Luis Suarez ap­peared to have in­spired an­other turn­around at the RCDE Sta­dium af­ter he can­celled out David Lopez’s opener with a deft half-vol­ley be­fore dig­ging out an ex­quis­ite pass for sub­sti­tute Ar­turo Vi­dal to fin­ish.

But a red card for Frenkie de Jong with 16 min­utes left gave Es­panyol re­newed hope and Chi­nese for­ward Wu emerged the hero, fir­ing past stand-in goal­keeper Neto to res­cue a point in Abe­lardo Fer­nan­dez’s first game in charge.

“De Jong’s send­ing off hurt us,” said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde.

“We could have scored a third and then in one play we con­ceded. We had the game un­der con­trol. The red card un­set­tled us a lit­tle.”

Barcelona re­main top of the ta­ble but only on goal dif­fer­ence, their two-point ad­van­tage re­moved af­ter Real Madrid ear­lier clinched an im­pres­sive 3-0 win away at Getafe.

Atletico Madrid moved up to third af­ter beat­ing Le­vante 2-1.

Es­panyol have not beaten their lo­cal ri­vals in the league since 2009 and are still four points from safety, yet this per­for­mance should do won­ders for morale.

They will be hop­ing for an­other res­cue mis­sion from new coach Abe­lardo, who took over Alaves with six points from 13 games in 2018 and led them to 14th.

“This can be a turn­ing-point,” he said. “But we have to com­pete just like to­day be­cause it won’t be easy.”

Barca now switch their at­ten­tion to the Span­ish Su­per Cup in Saudi Ara­bia next week, where a Cla­sico fi­nal awaits if Real Madrid beat Va­len­cia in the last four and they can over­come Atletico.

But Valverde will have much to pon­der af­ter de­fen­sive prob­lems again un­der­mined his team against the league’s bluntest at­tack.

Lopez was un­marked as he headed in Marc Roca’s cross in the 23rd minute while at the other end chances were few and far be­tween, with Lionel Messi go­ing clos­est with a header at the back post.

Vi­dal came on at half-time for Ivan Rakitic and Suarez worked his magic, an­gling his foot per­fectly to di­vert Jordi Alba’s cross in­side the near post be­fore pick­ing out Vi­dal to make it 2-1 nine min­utes later.

De Jong re­ceived a sec­ond yel­low card for pulling Jonathan

Cal­leri’s shirt but Barcelona were in com­mand un­til the 88th minute when Wu struck.

Freed by an ex­cel­lent re­verse pass by Ma­tias Var­gas, the 28 year old shot across Neto and into the far cor­ner.

Es­panyol might even have won it in in­jury-time as Cal­leri raced clear, only to fire over with two team-mates free in­side him.

Madrid catch Barca

Real Madrid made a more im­pres­sive start to their year as they picked apart a ro­bust Getafe side, even with­out the sus­pended Ser­gio Ramos and in­jured Eden Haz­ard.

Raphael Varane was the in­sti­ga­tor of two goals at the Coli­seum Al­fonso Perez, first pres­sur­ing Getafe's David So­ria into a missed punch and an own-goal, be­fore him­self head­ing home a cross from Toni Kroos.

“I’m happy with his per­for­mance but it’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant when Ser­gio Ramos isn’t there, to have an­other leader,” said Madrid coach Zine­dine Zi­dane.

Luka Mo­dric added a third deep into in­jury-time af­ter a bril­liant first-time pass by Gareth Bale had set Madrid away on the counter-at­tack.

Thibaut Cour­tois ap­pears fi­nally to be find­ing his best form af­ter a rocky start since his sum­mer move from Chelsea, mak­ing three strong saves be­fore Varane’s sec­ond gave Madrid breath­ing space.

“He saved us two or three times in the first half, he was key,” said Zi­dane.

Atletico have strug­gled for goals this sea­son but scored two in five min­utes at the Wanda Metropoli­tano as An­gel Cor­rea con­verted Kieran Trip­pier’s cross in the 13th minute be­fore Felipe Mon­teiro added a sec­ond in the 18th.

In be­tween, Le­vante also equalised through Roger Marti and they might have snatched a point at the end only for Jan Oblak to pro­duce a bril­liant save to deny Enis Bardhi.

(AFP)

Es­panyol’s Wu Lei (cen­tre) cel­e­brates his goal with team­mate Marc Roca against Barcelona

Raphael Varane

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