Barca slipping up in final straight

Real Sociedad is turning out to be Barcelona's jinx team after the Spanish and European champions lost away at San Sebastian for the fourth straight season, causing Lionel Messi (left) much despair.
Real Sociedad is turning out to be Barcelona's jinx team after the Spanish and European champions lost away at San Sebastian for the fourth straight season, causing Lionel Messi (left) much despair.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

La Liga leaders lose 2nd straight as Atletico cut their advantage to just three points

BARCELONA • Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has urged his side to show they are still the best team in the world in the final two months of the season after suffering a second consecutive La Liga defeat 1-0 at Real Sociedad on Saturday.

The European champions saw their lead at the top of La Liga shrink to three points over Atletico Madrid with six games remaining after they beat Espanyol 3-1.

Real Madrid are also in the title race a point further adrift as they saw off Basque minnows Eibar 4-0, with Cristiano Ronaldo becoming the first player to hit 30 La Liga goals in six straight seasons.

Ronaldo, who scored the winner in the previous week's Clasico at Barcelona, netted in the 19th minute.

"We have never said the league is over," said Enrique.

TIME TO PROVE OUR METTLE

It is a marvellous opportunity to show we are the best team in the world and that is why we carry that badge on our chest.

LUIS ENRIQUE, Barcelona manager, urging his team to maintain their lead atop La Liga despite two consecutive league losses.

"It is a marvellous opportunity to show we are the best team in the world and that is why we carry that badge on our chest."

Barca have taken just one point from their last three league games to see a commanding lead slip away. However, they still need to drop points in two of their remaining matches to surrender top spot, thanks to their better head-to-head record with Atletico.

Defeat also continued Barca's miserable run at Sociedad's Anoeta stadium, where they have now lost on their last four league visits.

Sociedad made the perfect start on Saturday as 18-year-old Oyarzabal soared to power home Xabi Prieto's cross into the far corner in the fifth minute.

"Evidently, there is a title race with six games remaining. It is an exciting and open league which the best team will win. At the moment we are top," added Enrique.

Barca also face a huge challenge to maintain their hopes of becoming the first side to retain the Champions League when they visit Atletico for their quarter-final, second leg on Wednesday.

The Catalans travel to Madrid with a 2-1 lead handed to them by Luis Suarez's double after Atletico had been reduced to 10 men by Fernando Torres' first-half red card in the first leg.

"The important game is on Wednesday," insisted Barca defender Gerard Pique.

"That is when we have the most important competition at stake. No team can do everything perfectly all season. We know what we have to improve on."

As well as missing the suspended Suarez, Enrique had left Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and Jordi Alba on the bench with one eye on the visit to the Vicente Calderon.

All three were called into action after the break, but Iniesta and Lionel Messi were both twice denied by Sociedad goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.

"More than talking about Barca, I'd rather concentrate on all of the good things which my team did," Sociedad manager Eusebio Sacristan said.

"We pressed them high in many stages of the game, but later, when we were obliged to defend, we did an excellent job.

"Tonight the credit is more ours than discreditting Barcelona because we went into the game with great spirit and the great game which Rulli put in steered us towards victory."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline 'BARCA SLIPPING UP IN FINAL STRAIGHT'. Print Edition | Subscribe