MADRID: Barcelona and Real Madrid needed late winners to see off Valencia and Athletic Bilbao, whilst Atletico Madrid tumbled from first to fifth with defeat at Sevilla.
Here AFP sports looks at five things we learned from week nine in La Liga.
Messi can take pressure penalties
Penalties have proved a rare weakness for Messi and striker partners Luis Suarez and Neymar over the past two seasons. Messi even briefly retired from international football so distraught was he with a blazed effort over the bar that helped hand Chile the Copa America in June.
However, under the most intense pressure with Barca tied 2-2 with Valencia in the 94th minute at Mestalla and facing renowned penalty specialist Diego Alves, Messi coolly slotted into the bottom corner to give the injury ravaged champions a vital victory to keep tabs on Real Madrid at the top of the table.
Sevilla threaten ‘big three’
Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone insisted before kick-off at the Sanchez Pizjuan that Sevilla were in the title race for the long haul, and then saw why as his side suffered a first defeat in any competition this season.
The performances of Jorge Sampaoli’s side haven’t always convinced, but the results are hard to argue with as they sit ahead of Barca and Atletico and just one point back of Real at the top.
Moreover, in contrast to what many expected following some comical defending in a 6-4 goal fest against Espanyol on the opening day, Sevilla’s defence has played its part in an excellent start to the campaign at home and in Europe.
Sunday’s shutout was their sixth of the season, including three from as many games in the Champions League.
Celta rule Galicia
Celta hammered home a power shift in Galician football from A Coruna to Vigo by thrashing Deportivo 4-1 in one of Spanish football’s normally most hotly contested derbies.
Whilst Depor have bounced up and down between the Primera and Segunda Divisions over the past decade, Celta have established themselves in the top half of the table in recent years have qualified for Europe for the first time in 10 years.
After a famous 4-3 win over Barcelona in their last La Liga outing at Balaidos, Deportivo were also hit for four.
Espanyol fightback saves Sanchez Flores
With just one win in eight games before this weekend despite raised expectations at now Chinese owned Espanyol, former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores looked set for the chop at 3-0 down at home to Eibar on Saturday.
A stirring second-half fightback, rounded off by Leo Baptistao’s injury time equaliser, may have salvaged just a point, but should ensure Sanchez Flores is given another lifeline ahead of next weekend’s trip to Real Betis.
Unlike in England’s Premier League, there is no rule preventing players on loan from playing against their parent clubs with those details left to the clubs to thrash out as part of the deal.
Barca just got away with their liberal policy of never preventing loanees from facing them as Munir El Haddadi’s strike for Valencia was rendered meaningless by Messi’s late winner.
Yet, Atletico weren’t so fortunate as Luciano Vietto played a key role in Sevilla’s win with the assist for Steven N’Zonzi’s winner.
Bizarely, the details of the deal mean Vietto won’t be able to play against Atletico in the league meeting at the Vicente Calderon later in the campaign, but the damage to Atletico’s title challenge may already be done.