Neymar sent off in Barca loss, Atletico draw at Real Madrid
BARCELONA: Neymar dealt a self-inflicted blow to Barcelona's Spanish league title defense when he was sent off with 25 minutes left in its 2-0 loss at Malaga on Saturday.
Barcelona failed to take advantage of the opportunity Atletico Madrid gave it to pull level with leader Real Madrid, where Antoine Griezmann's late equalizer grabbed a 1-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu hours earlier.
Barcelona's setback in Malaga meant Real increased its lead to three points despite the disappointing finish to the Spanish capital derby.
Real, which has a game in hand, still faces matches against Barcelona and fourth-place Sevilla over the final two months as it seeks its first Liga title in five years.
"The league is a bit more difficult now. But ... we have to fight for it," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said.
MALAGA 2, BARCELONA 0
Nothing went right for Barcelona.
Lionel Messi sent free kicks well over the bar, Andres Iniesta lost an easy ball in midfield, and Neymar got booked for not giving enough space for a free kick while tying up his laces.
Then there was Malaga's opener, when Jeremy Mathieu tried to catch Sandro Ramirez offside. Instead, the former Barcelona forward was left with half the pitch to bear down on goalie Marc-Andre ter Stegen and fire inside his near post in the 32nd.
And just when Barcelona started to click, Neymar got a second booking for charging into Diego Llorente.
Substitute Jonathan Rodriguez added Malaga's second goal in stoppage time with Barcelona searching for an equalizer.
"I had said that Real Madrid doesn't need our help to be champion," said Malaga coach Michel Gonzalez, a former Real player. "But a Malaga fan from Madrid has given them a hand."
REAL MADRID 1, ATLETICO MADRID 1
Pepe put Real ahead in the 52nd, when he shook off his marker and headed Toni Kroos' free kick just inside the far upright.
But Real failed to press for another goal and Griezmann capitalized on its complacency.
Substitute Angel Correa saw the sliver of space between Nacho Fernando and Dani Carvajal and slid the ball forward between the pair of Real defenders. Griezmann did the rest, slotting his shot past Keylor Navas in the 85th for his third goal against Real in Atletico's red-and-white.
"We know we are a strong team, with a great mentality. It was tough, but we got the draw thanks to a great pass by Angelito," Griezmann said. He dedicated his 23rd goal in all competitions to his daughter who turned one on Saturday.
It was a vintage performance by Diego Simeone's Atletico. His team bent but never broke under the steady pressure by the star-studded Real.
Besides Griezmann and Correa's moment of inspiration, Atletico's solid performance was based on the superb saves of Jan Oblak.
And when Cristiano Ronaldo finally beat him in the first half, defender Stefan Savic hustled back to clear his goal-bound strike with his head.
Atletico, which added the draw to wins at Real in the last three league campaigns, stayed in third place, 10 points back.
While highlighting the effort by his defense, Simeone lauded Griezmann for his "passion, work ethic and ability to move in the box."
But the best praise came from the rival manager.
"You can't wonder how to stop him," Zinedine Zidane said about Griezmann. "You just have to admit he is a great player."
Atletico can turn with confidence still high to the Champions League, where it hosts Leicester on Tuesday in the quarterfinals the same day that Barcelona visits Juventus.
Real's six-match win streak ended. It travels to Bayern Munich for its European quarterfinal on Wednesday, and will likely do so without Pepe, who fractured two ribs and had to be substituted after his goal.
SEVILLA 4, DEPORTIVO LA CORUNA 2
Sevilla overcame a double by Gael Kakuta to end a six-game winless streak.
Sevilla honored sports director Ramon "Monchi" Rodriguez, who is leaving the club this summer, with a tribute before the match.
ESPANYOL 1, ALAVES 0
Pablo Piatti gave Espanyol a fourth consecutive home victory.