Barca even closer to title now: Enrique

Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic (left) celebrates with Jordi Alba after scoring the opening goal against Real Betis five minutes into the second half. Barca won 2-0 to stay at the top of the La Liga table on 85 points.
Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic (left) celebrates with Jordi Alba after scoring the opening goal against Real Betis five minutes into the second half. Barca won 2-0 to stay at the top of the La Liga table on 85 points. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BARCELONA • Luis Enrique believes Barcelona took a big step towards retaining their Spanish La Liga football title as they overcame 10-man Real Betis 2-0 on Saturday.

The defending champions still need to win their two remaining games against local rivals Espanyol and Granada to be assured of winning the league after Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid were also victorious on Saturday.

Atletico kept pace as substitute Antoine Griezmann fired them to a 1-0 home win over struggling Rayo Vallecano, while Real's Gareth Bale scored in a 1-0 victory at Real Sociedad that leaves them still a point behind.

Barcelona remain at the summit on 85 points, level with Atletico but having a superior head-to-head record, while Real are third with 84 points and two games of the season left.

"I have the feeling that it is closer all the time," said Enrique. "The next game we have is a derby against Espanyol and I am sure the Nou Camp will be rocking."

Barca threw away a nine-point lead over Atletico with three consecutive La Liga defeats following a 39-game unbeaten run earlier this month.

However, the Catalan side have responded like champions by scoring 16 goals without reply in their three league games since to keep matters in their own hands.

"This is a very difficult league with three teams in the fight to win the title," said Enrique.

"I think all three of us are playing at a good level, having a great season and I don't think any of the three are going to slip up, therefore we have to do our job. We have the privileged situation."

Barca were given a huge helping hand by two clear Betis errors as Heiko Westermann chopped down Ivan Rakitic to rightly see a second yellow card before half-time.

And Rakitic was left with a tap-in to open the scoring five minutes after the break after a mix-up between German Pezzella and Antonio Adan.

Luis Suarez then sealed the points nine minutes from time from a sensational through ball by Lionel Messi to register his 54th goal of the season.

"I don't think we suffered at all. We were in control the whole time despite the adverse circumstances of a very dry pitch which affected both teams, Betis more than Barca," said Enrique.

"It is always difficult to beat a well-organised team defensively like Betis. But in the second half with the numerical advantage, we created lots of chances and, given the situation where only winning counts, I think we played well."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Barca even closer to title now: Enrique'. Print Edition | Subscribe