Pep Guardiola may have given up on the Liga title, but Barcelona still goes on fighting for every match as if it were a cup final — even, in recent weeks, in its Camp Nou stronghold, where it ground out a tough 3-1 win over 19th-placed Sporting Gijón on Saturday.
From the whistle, the play only went in one direction — toward Sporting keeper Juan Pablo. But the Catalans — without the suspended Lionel Messi — struggled to penetrate coach Javier Clemente’s tightly organized defense until just before half time, when Andrés Iniesta slotted home a killer squared pass from Adriano.
With the deadlock broken, the stage seemed set for a straightforward home victory, but one minute into the second half Gerard Piqué was shown a straight red card for bringing down Miguel de las Cuevas just outside the Barça area. Only moments later Sporting substitute David Barral then nipped in front of goalkeeper Víctor Valdes to make it 1-1.
Seydou Keita finally put the Catalans back in front in the 80th minute with a beautiful looping left-foot strike into the top corner that even the Malian struggled to believe: “It was a good goal, yes,” he said. “I score with my head, not like this.”
Xavi sealed the game with the third eight minutes later.
After the match, Piqué had harsh words for referee Velasco Carballo about what he considered his “premeditated” dismissal. “Referees take duels as something personal,” said the defender. “At half time I spoke to him about a foul on Keita that I thought was a penalty and I think he had it in for me. Referees have every right to make a mistake, to not see a penalty or handball. But it’s another thing altogether to take a decision in a premeditated way.”
On Sunday Athletic moved into fourth spot with a 2-0 win over Real Sociedad in the Basque derby. It sits equal on 37 points with fifth-place Málaga, which came from a goal down to win 1-3 against Getafe on Saturday — the third a magnificent lob from near the halfway line by Santi Cazorla.
At the Sánchez Pizjuán an air-punch from Atlético Madrid coach Diego Simeone as he entered the tunnel at the end of the match indicated his satisfaction with his team’s 1-1 tie against Sevilla, even if the result hardly helped either side’s European hopes.
“I am very happy with the players and our aim is to go from match to match,” said the Argentinean. “The team responded well against a great side with a great support.”
Other results: Real Zaragoza 2-1 Villarreal; Granada 0-1 Valencia; Rayo 4-2 Racing; Mallorca 1-1 Osasuna.