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Real Madrid escape on a favourable wind


Week 20 of Liga action has placed Real Madrid in a very comfortable position. Doing the maths in the style of Vujadin Boskov, Zinedine Zidane’s side gained eight points: the three they earned in victory over Real Sociedad, the two Barcelona dropped at Betis and the three Sevilla left in Cornellà. The collective head has been cleared again and Madrid can look ahead with optimism as they have one bullet still in the chamber, the game in hand against Valencia in Mestalla. And all this when Zidane’s side put in a far from memorable performance. Real Sociedad are a very well put together side and for long periods they controlled the match better than the home side. Once again, the difference was in the punching weight. Mateo Kovacic, the best player on the pitch, opened the scoring when he ran to a Cristiano Ronaldo through-ball and then the league leaders applied their counter-attacking prowess.

The fresh gap opened up at the top of the table was accompanied by controversy. Barcelona were held by Betis for two reasons: Firstly, because the visitors were poor for 70 minutes during which Betis were the better side, led by a stellar performance from Dani Ceballos. Betis did not open the scoring until the 74th minute but before then had hit the post twice and converted Marc-André Ter Stegen into Barça’s best player. After conceding Barcelona responded and before they equalized in the 90th minute they had the ball over the line, although the goal was not given. Betis defender Aïssa Mandi hooked the ball clear but from a position behind the posts. That’s the way it looked at first sight and the replays left no room for doubt.

The passage of play, which was accompanied by a penalty on Neymar, had Barcelona fans up in arms although the club, with Luis Enrique to the fore, adopted an irreproachable attitude. They even managed to clamp Gerard Piqué. Only a tweet from Neymar broke the silence. The incident had again raised the question of La Liga’s reluctance to lean on video technology. Likewise the decision made by referee Iñaki Vicandi to send off Nicolás Pareja and award Espanyol a penalty in the first minute did not leave me feeling entirely comfortable. What with one thing or another, Real Madrid have managed to escape again.