Barcelona rallies to top Madrid, move closer to league title

Franck Kessié scored in stoppage time to give Barcelona the home victory and a 12-point lead over second-place Madrid with 12 matches to go

FC Barcelona's Franck Kessie celebrates scoring their second goal.
FC Barcelona's Franck Kessie celebrates scoring their second goal.JUAN MEDINA (REUTERS)

Barcelona took a major step toward winning its first Spanish league title since 2019 after coming from behind to beat Real Madrid 2-1 on Sunday.

Franck Kessié scored in stoppage time to give Barcelona the home victory and a 12-point lead over second-place Madrid with 12 matches to go.

Barcelona’s players huddled and celebrated on the field after the final whistle at Camp Nou.

The Catalan club was saved by the VAR for the second consecutive game, as Madrid had a potential go-ahead goal by Marco Asensio called back in the 81st minute because of offside. Last week, it edged Athletic Bilbao when an 87th-minute equalizer by Athletic forward Iñaki Williams was disallowed by video review.

Barcelona went into the match still facing criticism over its payments of several millions of dollars over several years to the former vice president of the country’s refereeing committee. Prosecutors have formally accused Barcelona of alleged corruption, fraudulent management and falsification of documentation. Madrid is among the clubs siding against Barcelona in the legal proceedings, as is the Spanish government, the league and the soccer federation. Barcelona has consistently denied any wrongdoing or conflict of interest, saying it paid for technical reports on referees but never tried to influence their decisions in games.

Madrid needed a win in the last league “clasico” of the season to give itself a realistic chance of catching Barcelona and defending its title.

Barcelona won eight league titles in 11 seasons through 2019. It finished second to Madrid in 2020, then third — behind Madrid and champion Atletico Madrid — in 2021, and second to Madrid again last season. It is seeking its 27th league title, which would leave it eight behind Madrid.

Barcelona was in control for much of the match on Sunday, creating most of the significant chances.

But the visitors opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a fortunate own-goal by Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo, who redirected the ball into the net with a header after a cross by Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior from the left side of the area.

Sergi Roberto equalized after picking up a loose ball inside the area in the 45th, and Kessié netted the winner from the middle of the box after a late breakaway as Madrid made a final push for the victory.

Madrid had thought it went ahead when Asensio found the net from near the penalty spot after a pass by Dani Carvajal, but video review determined the goal couldn’t count because of offside in a tight call.

It was the second match between the rivals in less than three weeks. Barcelona won 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium on March 3 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals. The return leg at Camp Nou is on April 5.

Madrid won the first league “clasico” 3-1 at the Bernabéu.

Barcelona was without playmaker Pedri and forward Ousmane Dembélé because of injuries, while Madrid’s only absence was defender David Alaba, also because of an injury. Barcelona players wore the logo of international singer Rosalía instead of Spotify’s brand as part of its strategic agreement with the music streaming service. Rosalía was selected as she celebrates the one-year release of her hit album Motomami.

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