Barcelona’s nightmare week hit a new low when they followed up their UEFA Champions League exit with a shock 1-0 defeat at Granada on Saturday that left their bid for a fifth La Liga title in six years in serious jeopardy.
After Atletico Madrid dumped them out of Europe’s elite club competition on Wednesday last week, Barca sought a morale-boosting domestic win that would have put them two points clear at the top ahead of Atletico, who were due to play at Getafe yesterday.
However, the Spanish champions again looked lethargic and short on ideas against a club with a fraction of their resources and surrendered second place to archrivals Real Madrid, who thumped struggling UD Almeria 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu to draw level on 79 points with Atletico.
Atletico could stretch their advantage at the top to three points with a win at Getafe. They play at Barca in their final match of the season and will already be assured of their first league title since 1995-1996, when current coach Diego Simeone was in the side, if they win their next five matches.
“The league is not in our own hands anymore,” Barca coach Gerardo Martino told a press conference.
“There is no reason to criticize the team, they gave it everything they had,” added the Argentine, who is in his first season in charge at the Camp Nou and now needs to lift his players for Wednesday’s Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid. “The ball did not want to go in and that’s that. We just weren’t up to scratch in taking our chances.”
Barca fell behind at Granada’s Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes when Alex Song lost possession in midfield in the 16th minute, Yacine Brahimi racing clear and firing past goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto.
They dominated the rest of the match, but Granada, who are fighting to avoid relegation, held firm against waves of attacks and the Catalan giants’ second consecutive defeat will do little to dispel the impression of a club in crisis.
They had almost 90 percent possession, but not even four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who turned in another subdued performance, or Brazil forward Neymar could unlock a stubborn home defense.
Neymar had several clear chances, while Messi drew a fine save from Granada goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis with a free-kick just after the hour.
Sergio Busquets almost scored when the ball fell to him at the resulting corner, but his close-range effort was straight at the goalkeeper.
“This is a step backwards,” Barca playmaker Andres Iniesta, who was captaining the side in place of the rested Xavi, said in an interview with Spanish TV broadcaster Canal Plus. “Sometimes it’s hard to find an explanation when you lose, but we just couldn’t get the goal. Teams like Granada, who are playing for their La Liga survival, live and die on chances like the one they scored, but that was too much punishment for us. We tried everything we could to score. It hurts having taken this step backwards with so few matches left.”
Angel di Maria fired Real Madrid ahead in the 28th minute against strugglers Almeria when he cut into the penalty area from the right and curled a shot into the far corner.
Gareth Bale made it 2-0 eight minutes into the second half with a low strike that ricocheted into the net off Almeria goalkeeper Esteban and Isco added a third three minutes later when he clipped a low shot into the corner.