MADRID: Real Madrid were handed a let-off as they edged closer to a first La Liga title in five years on a controversial weekend of action.
Barcelona’s defeat at Malaga leaves Real three points clear at the top and with a game in hand to come.
Here, AFP Sports look at five things we learned from the 31st round of fixtures.
Barca’s ban plan backfires
Barcelona have now dropped five points against Malaga this season and can only have themselves to blame for underestimating their opponents.
The Catalans were without the suspended Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic after they deliberately picked up yellow cards against Sevilla in midweek to rule out any chance of picking up an untimely booking next weekend against Real Sociedad and missing El Clasico against Real Madrid on April 23.
Luis Suarez did the same thing to miss their first clash against Malaga back in November and, without the Uruguayan, Barca failed to find the net in a 0-0 draw.
Neymar sees red over boot ploy
Another huge contributory factor to Barca’s defeat was Neymar’s first red card in four seasons in Spanish football.
The Brazilian’s first booking was for delaying a Malaga free-kick by tying his shoelaces inches away from the ball.
It is not the first time in recent weeks Neymar’s attention to detail with his boots have perhaps not been in the Barca’s best interests.
He changed his footwear whilst play was ongoing in Barca’s two previous games against Granada and Sevilla leaving his side temporarily down to 10 men.
Neymar has a highly lucrative long-term sponsorship deal with Nike and cynics suggest his antics may be to ensure his boots get extra time on camera.
Relief, joy and sadness for Sevilla
Sevilla finally ended a six-game run without a win as they edged a six-goal thriller 4-2 over Deportivo la Coruna.
An emotional occasion at the Sanchez Pizjuan was also tinged with sadness for Sevilla, though, as they paid homage and said goodbye to sporting director Monchi, who has been the architect of by a distance the club’s most successful era.
During 17 years in his role Monchi made the club over a 100 million euro profit in transfers, whilst winning nine trophies.
His departure will be a much harder gap to fill than any of the star players that came and went under his watch.
Griezmann outguns the ‘BBC’
Antoine Griezmann started the weekend by saying he was “sick” of answering questions over his future and then duly barraged by reporters querying whether he could do the unthinkable and swap sides of the Madrid divide from Atletico to Real.
Griezmann’s excellent finish five minutes from time secured a 1-1 draw for Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday as Real’s star ‘BBC’ strike force of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema again failed to shine.
For the past three seasons the BBC have scored well over 60 percent of Madrid’s goals. This season that figure has fallen below 40 percent.
Real president Florentino Perez is expected to win a third straight term unopposed in club elections this summer.
However, Perez likes to make a big splash in the transfer market in election years and Griezmann would be the nuclear option if he opts to blow apart a gentleman’s agreement between the clubs not to sign players directly from Atletico.
Sandro not sorry
On a night of regrets for Barca in Malaga, another was releasing Sandro Ramirez for free last summer to continue his career on the Costa del Sol.
Sandro celebrated wildly after scoring Malaga’s opener and was promptly reprimanded by Suarez, who told his former teammate “not to forget the hand that fed him”.
The Malaga man was remorseful afterwards, but only to his former coaches at Barca’s La Masia academy and not the club’s fans.
“I ask forgiveness,” he said. “Not to Barcelona’s fans but the people at La Masia, who have given me