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Sunday 10. February 2019 - 19:16

Real Madrid's resurgence shows Barcelona must remain perfect in La Liga title race

Barcelona may have a healthy lead at the top of La Liga, but Real Madrid's statement victory at Atletico Madrid proved they are capable of pouncing on any slip-up.

Having swapped the Vicente Calderón for the Wanda in 2017, Atletico quickly established their new ground as a fortress, with Diego Simeone's watertight defence stopping everyone in their tracks.

In the 2017-18 season, Atleti only relinquished their unbeaten home record in the final month, while four of the eight goals they conceded at the Wanda that year came in their last two games.

The current campaign saw Atleti resume their fine form at home, having shipped in just four goals, winning nine and drawing two in 11 matches going into the Madrid derby.

But the barricades came crashing down on Saturday. Real's 3-1 victory was their first at the Wanda, and proved to be the first time any side has scored three goals at Atleti's new home.

In doing so, Real leapfrogged their city rivals into second and announced themselves as Barcelona's closest rivals in the league.

The VAR controversy will likely rumble on into the week, but regardless of the decisions that appeared to go Real's way, Santiago Solari's side played like a team unaffected by the arena they were stepping into.

Simeone was even magnanimous in defeat. "Atletico Madrid lost because of a convincing opponent," he told Marca. "I don't usually speak about VAR and I believe it's something that will surely get better and make things more efficient for all."

"I can't see the replays like those working with VAR do, so I hope they were correct with the decisions."

"I definitely don't think we lost because of VAR. The opposition were better than us and more convincing. They had a very good game. So we congratulate them and prepare for the next one."

The league is still well and truly in Barca's hands. If anything, Real's win strengthened their hand in halting second-placed Atleti, but Ernesto Valverde's side will know they can ill afford slip ups.

A five-point gap could become eight on Sunday when Barca travel to Athletic Bilbao, and as has been witnessed with Liverpool in the Premier League, anything short of three points will indicate to the chasing pack that there are perhaps signs of weakness.

There is also the small matter of a league Clasico at the Bernabeu on March 2.

Real will have their eyes firmly fixed on that date as they bid to claw back the deficit. It will as ever be an unpredictable affair, but if Real continue with the swagger they've shown in recent weeks then they will fancy themselves going into the final stages of the season.

Win the Clasico, and the La Liga race comes alive.

Provided by: Frank Henriksen
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