Spanish media has predicted the end of the Primera Liga title race after leaders Real Madrid went eight points clear of Barcelona at the weekend.
|The experts believe the Spanish title |
is Real's to lose [GALLO/GETTY]
Real's 2-1 comeback win at home to Espanyol on Saturday, coupled with Barca's 2-1 defeat by Villarreal at the Nou Camp on Sunday, restored a healthy advantage that had been trimmed to just two points two weeks ago.
"Real Madrid escape again," sports daily Marca said on Monday, while Mundo Deportivo wrote: "Without (injured Lionel) Messi there is no Barca and no title race."
Barca president Joan Laporta described Sunday's game as "disastrous" as Villarreal played a sensible holding game, packing the midfield, breaking rapidly and effectively to a deserved win with goals from Marcos Senna and Jon Dahl Tomasson.
Villarreal are now just four points short of Barca in third place, with 11 games left in the season.
Real also went behind in their game against Espanyol at the Bernabeu, and like Barca had to endure murmurs of unrest and whistles from their fans before coming back with a goal from Gonzalo Higuain and a dubious penalty from Raul.
"It wasn't a game for the gallery," a taciturn coach Bernd Schuster observed.
While the top two struggled it was the likes of lesser-lights Villarreal, Racing Santander, Getafe and Real Mallorca who provided the entertainment over the weekend.
King's Cup semi-finalists Racing were the surprise package of the first half of the season, and have recovered from a dip in form to climb to fifth place, level on 44 points with fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.
The Cantabrians beat 10-man Real Betis 3-0 at home on Sunday to stay on course for a possible first appearance in a major European competition.
"Our objective from the start of the season was to avoid relegation and we have achieved that mathematically with this win. Now we can start to dream of other things," said coach Marcelino.
Getafe roll on
Their Cup semi-final opponents Getafe made it nine games unbeaten in all competitions with a 3-0 away win over Real Murcia on Sunday, spoiling new coach Javier Clemente's first game at the helm of the hosts.
Michael Laudrup's modest side show little sign of fatigue as they chase a potential cup double.
They are 2-1 up from the away leg of their UEFA Cup last-16 tie against Benfica.
Real Mallorca ended a run of five consecutive league draws with a spectacular 7-1 demolition of Recreativo Huelva, with Venezuela forward Juan Arango bagging a hat-trick in the islanders' biggest ever win in the top flight.
"It's a game every coach dreams of witnessing, but we haven't really won anything. It is still only three points," Mallorca coach Gregorio Manzano said.