LA LIGA: Real held at Espanyol, hand title to Barcelona

Reuters, MADRID

Mon, May 13, 2013 - Page 20

Real Madrid gifted Barcelona the La Liga title when a second-string side could only draw 1-1 at RCD Espanyol on Saturday to leave Tito Vilanova’s leaders seven points clear with their rivals having only two games left.

Jose Mourinho fielded a weakened team with one eye on Friday’s Copa del Rey final against Atletico Madrid, Real’s last chance of major silverware this season, giving the occasion a sense of anticlimax.

Cristian Stuani gave Espanyol the lead after 28 minutes and although Gonzalo Higuain pulled one back for Real in the 58th, it was not enough to stop Barca securing the league trophy.

Barcelona, who were visiting third-placed Atletico Madrid yesterday, had 88 points with four games left to play. Real have 81 in second having played two matches more than their archrivals.

“First I want to congratulate Barcelona, their coaching staff, their players, directors and fans,” Real manager Mourinho said. “They have won a league title which was ours until now and I think the least we can do is congratulate them.”

Despite the La Liga crown being at stake, Real started with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema on the bench, and midtable Espanyol, who have little left to play for this season, sniffed the chance of an upset.

The game took a turn for the worse for Real when Raphael Varane fell awkwardly as he made a tackle and went down clutching his right knee.

The promising young French defender had to be substituted after 19 minutes and in the 28th Stuani pounced on a loose ball in the area after a corner to fire the hosts in front.

Espanyol were unlucky to have a second goal ruled out soon after, while Real offered little going forward until Higuain flicked a header inside the far post from Luka Modric’s free-kick just before the hour mark.

The equalizer came two minutes after Real’s leading scorer Ronaldo had entered the fray and the visitors steadily increased the pressure on the Espanyol goal, although they rarely looked like finding the winner.

Espanyol had midfielder Victor Sanchez sent off at the end for a dangerous tackle on Higuain, giving Ronaldo a final chance to grab a winner with a free-kick, but his attempt was high and wide, summing up Real’s dismal night.

“We didn’t start the season well and this meant we couldn’t compete at the end. Now we have to focus on the Copa as it is a title we still have to compete for,” Real midfielder Alonso told Spanish broadcaster Canal Plus.

The day’s other games all involved clubs fighting to avoid relegation, with CA Osasuna the only side in the bottom six to win with a 1-0 triumph at home to Getafe.

Defender Alejandro Arribas headed in after a corner after 75 minutes to lift the Navarrans to 15th with 36 points, four above the relegation zone and 18th-placed RC Deportivo de La Coruna.

Depor’s seven-match unbeaten run ended at Real Valladolid when Javi Guerra scored with a back-heel just after halftime.

The Galicians are two points short of safety and 17th-placed Real Zaragoza, who drew 0-0 at Levante UD on Friday.

Depor are also a point ahead of regional rivals RC Celta de Vigo in 19th and three in front of basement side RCD Mallorca, who have 29 points.

Mallorca were pushed closer to the second division when they went down 2-1 at Athletic Bilbao.

Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz headed an early goal and the visitors were left a man down when defender Andreu Fontas was sent off for a handball in the area in the 24th minute.

Dudu Aouate gave the Islanders hope by saving Aduriz’s penalty, only for substitute Fernando Llorente to double the hosts’ lead with a close-range volley in the 79th minute.

Mallorca’s talented playmaker Giovani dos Santos put them back in the game with a superb free-kick into the top corner two minutes later.

Gregorio Manzano’s team were then reduced to nine men when defender Ximo Navarro was sent off, but Dos Santos almost forced an equalizer in stoppage-time, before the locals could breathe a sigh of relief.

Bilbao, last season’s Europa League and Copa del Rey finalists, have all but mathematically assured their top-flight status in 14th with 41 points.