Saturday, Barcelona topped the La Liga table as Lionel Messi scored four goals in Barcelona’s 5-0 home demolition of Eibar while Karim Benzema muffed four scoring chances in Real Madrid’s 0-1 away loss to Levante. The score lines ensured the Catalans will go into next week’s clasico with a two-point cushion over their archrivals.
Barca at 55 points leads the table, followed by Real Madrid at 53 points, and then, with one goal differential of separation between them, are Atletico Madrid and Sevilla respectively, at 43 points each.
Once again Real coach, Zinedine Zidane, decided last week’s starting line-up needed shaking up so the merry-go-round continued and Eden Hazard, Isco and the hapless Benzema started in a sputtering offense that could make plays but not find the net with Hazard missing two golden chances, including a one-on-one, and Isco misfiring all day from close range.
The offense then stagnated for long spells and only came to life once Vinicius Junior (67th minute) and Lucas Vasquez (73rd minute) replaced Hazard and Isco respectively. Zidane wisely used his last substitution to give Luka Modric a break at the 81st minute.
The Merengues enjoyed a 63% possession, 19 shot, seven corner evening to their opponents 37%, 8, and 3 respectively. Of Real’s shots, seven where on target and none went in. Levante had two on target and one went in. Benzema had four goal-scoring opportunities, all from inside the box. He managed two shots on target, right at goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez, and two off-target.
The winning goal was a beauty and deserving of being the only score in what was an entertaining match. A long ball found Levante captain, Jose Luis Morales, on the left-wing. He caught up to the ball and volleyed home a scorcher that flew by a surprised Thibaut Courtois who had misjudged the angle and actually let his hand descend as the ball went by, thinking it was heading out.
Meanwhile, three hours and forty minutes north on the E-15, Barcelona were putting their rivals away early with Messi scoring at the 14, 37 and 40th. In the second half Messi (87th) and Arthur (89th) got garbage goals to pad their goal differential.
In other Saturday matches, Celta Vigo beat visiting Leganes 1-0 and hosts Real Sociedad demolished Valencia 3-0. On Friday, Real Betis were held 3-3 at home by Mallorca. On Sunday, Osasuna lost at home 0-3 to Granada, Alaves defeated visiting Athletic Bilbao 2-1, hosts Real Valladolid won 2-1 over Espanyol, Getafe lost 0-3 to visiting Sevilla, and Atletico Madrid made the Wanda Metropolitano faithful happy with a 3-1 win over Villarreal.
At round’s end, Barcelona’s Messi led the scorers’ table with 18 goals, followed by Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema (can you believe it?) at 13, and Barca’s Luis Suarez at 11 goals.