BBVA: Understrength Real defeat Barca again

BRING ON UNITED::Goalscorer Sergio Ramos said two victories over archrivals Barca in a week was the perfect way to prepare for tomorrow’s tricky trip to Old Trafford

AFP, MADRID

Mon, Mar 04, 2013 - Page 18

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has claimed that Real Madrid tend to get the big decisions from referees after his side were denied a last-minute penalty in their 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid.

Sergio Ramos’ header nine minutes from time proved to be the winner after Karim Benzema and Lionel Messi had exchanged goals in the first half, but Pique and his teammates were left aggrieved after Ramos appeared to fell Adriano inside the box, with Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes receiving a red card for his protests after the final whistle had been blown.

“We said to the referee that it seemed clear to us, but we already know how these things go. Against Real Madrid, if the game is close, just by chance things tend to go in their favor,” Pique said. “We are left with the feeling that a draw would have been a fair result if we had been given the penalty, but we cannot make this excuse because this team has too much quality to depend on refereeing decisions to win games.”

The defeat was Barca’s third in four games and Pique admits they are struggling to find their best form.

“You can’t maintain this level for 12 months. In the last four years, we have always had moments in which our level of performance has dropped, but it is clear that we have had three of four bad games and this is serious because Barcelona always have to win.”

On the other hand, victory came as even more of a welcome surprise for the hosts after manager Jose Mourinho made seven changes to the side that had beaten Barca 3-1 in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday, with star-man Cristiano Ronaldo starting on the bench. However, even without their talisman, they made the perfect start when Benzema tapped home Alvaro Morata’s cross, before Messi brought Barca level with a trademark left-footed finish 12 minutes later.

Ronaldo’s introduction after the break, though, sparked the game into life and after Valdes had produced fine saves to beat away the Portuguese’s free-kick and deny Morata when he was clean through, Ramos left the Barca goalkeeper helpless as he rose highest to power home Luka Modric’s corner.

Madrid’s victory keeps their very slim hopes of retaining their title alive as they cut Barca’s lead over the champions to 13 points, but as Mourinho’s team selection indicated, of more immediate importance is tomorrow’s make or break UEFA Champions League tie with Manchester United, which is level at 1-1.

Ramos believes that two victories against Barca was the perfect way to prepare for their trip to Old Trafford.

“It’s clear that these victories are great for the confidence of the group because now we face a difficult match in the Champions League,” Ramos said. “After the two Clasicos, we are going to Manchester convinced that we can win, although with a lot of respect for our opponents, who are a great team.”

Elsewhere, Valencia missed the opportunity to move into fourth as Jose Barkero’s late equalizer gave Levante UD a share of the spoils as the derby ended 2-2.

Vicente Iborra had headed Levante into an early lead, before Jonas and Roberto Soldado replied for the hosts, but a slip by Jeremy Mathieu three minutes from time allowed Barkero in to salvage a point for Juan Ignacio Martinez’s men.

At the bottom, RC Deportivo de La Coruna remain rooted to the foot of the table after they could only manage a 0-0 draw at home to Rayo Vallecano de Madrid, but Athletic Bilbao eased their relegation fears with a hard-fought 1-0 win away to CA Osasuna thanks to Markel Susaeta’s second-half strike.