Lethargic Barca slump to shock defeat at Granada
Barcelona's Lionel Messi (C) reacts after missing a scoring opportunity during their Spanish First Division soccer match against Granada at Nuevo Los Carmenes stadium in Granada, April 12, 2014. Photo by Marcelo del Pozo, Reuters.
MADRID - Barcelona's nightmare week hit a new low when they followed up their Champions League exit with a shock 1-0 defeat at Granada on Saturday that left their bid for a fifth La Liga title in six years in serious jeopardy.
After Atletico Madrid dumped them out of Europe's elite club competition on Wednesday, Barca sought a morale-boosting domestic win that would have put them two points clear at the top ahead of Atletico, who play at Getafe on Sunday.
However, the Spanish champions again looked lethargic and short on ideas against a club with a fraction of their resources and surrendered second place to arch rivals Real Madrid, who thumped struggling Almeria 4-0 at the Bernabeu to draw level on 79 points with Atletico.
Atletico can stretch their advantage at the top to three points with a win at Getafe. They play at Barca in their final match of the season and will already be assured of their first Spanish league title since 1996, when current coach Diego Simeone was in the side, if they win their next five matches.
"The league is not in our own hands anymore," Barca coach Gerardo Martino told a news conference.
"There is no reason to criticize the team, they gave it everything they had," added the Argentine, who is in his first season in charge at the Nou Camp and now needs to lift his players for Wednesday's King's Cup final against Real.
"The ball did not want to go in and that's that. We just weren't up to scratch in taking our chances."
Barca fell behind at Granada's Nuevo Los Carmenes stadium when Alex Song lost possession in midfield in the 16th minute and Yacine Brahimi raced clear and fired past goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto.
They dominated the rest of the match but Granada, who are fighting to avoid relegation, held firm against waves of attacks and the Catalan giants' second consecutive defeat will do little to dispel the impression of a club in crisis.
They had almost 90 percent possession but not even four-times World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who turned in another subdued performance, or Brazil forward Neymar could unlock a stubborn home defense.
Neymar had several clear chances, while Messi drew a fine save from Granada goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis with a free kick just after the hour.
Sergio Busquets almost scored when the ball fell to him at the resulting corner but his close-range effort was straight at the keeper.
"This is a step backwards," Barca playmaker Andres Iniesta, who was captaining the side in place of the rested Xavi, said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Canal Plus.
"Sometimes it's hard to find an explanation when you lose but we just couldn't get the goal," added the Spain international.
"Teams like Granada who are playing for their La Liga survival live and die on chances like the one they scored but that was too much punishment for us.
"We tried everything we could to score. It hurts having taken this step backwards with so few matches left."
Angel Di Maria fired Real ahead in the 28th minute against strugglers Almeria when he cut into the penalty area from the right and curled a shot into the far corner.
Gareth Bale made it 2-0 eight minutes into the second half with a low strike that ricocheted into the net off Almeria keeper Esteban and Isco added a third three minutes later when he clipped a low shot into the corner.
Substitute Alvaro Morata ran onto Asier Illarramendi's scooped pass to complete the rout five minutes from time.
"We are just focusing on ourselves as always, we knew that the league would have its ups and downs," Di Maria told Canal Plus.
"Wednesday's game is a Cup final and they (Barca) will no doubt be back to their best," he added.
"We just have to keep working in the knowledge that we are on the right path and we have to keep it going."
Earlier, Jeremy Perbet headed a last-gasp goal for Villarreal to secure a 1-0 victory at home to regional rivals Levante that lifted them above Real Sociedad into sixth.
Sociedad twice surrendered the lead at Celta Vigo, who had defender Jon Aurtenetxe sent off two minutes after halftime, in a 2-2 draw at the Balaidos stadium.
Villarreal have 52 points, one ahead of Sociedad and one behind fifth-placed Sevilla, who visit city rivals Real Betis on Sunday.
Granada's win lifted them six points clear of the relegation places into 13th on 37 points, while Almeria are 19th with 30 points. (Editing by Ken Ferris/Rex Gowar)