Barcelona, Atletico slip up in La Liga title race


Joao Felix of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Hugo Guillamon of Valencia CF during the LaLiga EA Sports match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Mestalla on December 16, 2023 in Valencia, Spain. 

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have stumbled in the Spanish league title race, while struggling Sevilla have parted company with coach Diego Alonso.

Barcelona’s 1-1 draw at Valencia made it three games without a win across all competitions as Xavi Hernandez’s side struggle to find the form that took them to the title last season.

Atletico fared even worse, fortunate to lose only 2-0 at top-four chasing Athletic Bilbao.

Barcelona’s stalemate at Mestalla Stadium means surprise leaders Girona remain six points clear of their third-placed local rivals before Monday’s clash with Alaves.

Real Madrid, who host Villarreal on Sunday, lie second two points behind Girona.

Joao Felix put Barcelona ahead in the 55th minute with a tap in from a Raphina cross, and the visitors wasted chances for a second before midfielder Hugo Guillamon pulled Valencia level from the edge of the box.

Coach Xavi had called the game “a final” after losing to Girona last weekend and then falling at Antwerp midweek in the Champions League.

“Any result other than taking the three points here is a blow for us,” Barcelona midfielder Pedri Gonzalez said.

“We played better than we did against Girona but not good enough. It is clear that we are not in a good moment.”

Spain winger Nico Williams starred in Bilbao’s win over Atletico, scoring his team’s second goal and earning a penalty that was missed by Oihan Sancet.

“This is our fortress,” Williams said about the San Mames stadium, where Bilbao have lost only once in nine games.

Sevilla have fired Alonso after the team hit a new low with a 3-0 loss at home to Getafe.

Since Alonso arrived in October, Sevilla have not won in eight league games and lost all four of their Champions League matches.

Their only two wins since Alonso replaced Jose Mendilibar, who led Sevilla to the Europa League title last season, have come against lower-division opposition in the Copa del Rey.

Sevilla are level on points with Celta Vigo and Cadiz, the latter of whom are in the drop zone in 18th.

Getafe striker Borja Mayoral converted a penalty for his 10th goal of the season, putting him second to Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham (12) as La Liga’s leading scorer.

Rafa Benitez earned some relief after his Celta Vigo side won at home for the first time this season, edging Granada 1-0 to exit the relegation zone on goal difference.

The match was the first for Celta since Marian Mourino became the first woman to lead a top-flight club in Spain.

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