Barcelona takes 9-point lead after Madrid held by Betis
MADRID (AP) — In three days, Barcelona has enjoyed seeing rival Real Madrid take two blows.
After beating Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Barcelona kept its title-chasing momentum in the Spanish league by defeating Valencia 1-0 and increasing its lead over second-place Madrid to nine points. Madrid couldn't keep pace with the Catalan club later Sunday after being held to a 0-0 draw at Real Betis.
Raphinha scored a first-half winner for Barcelona, which missed a penalty from Ferran Torres early in the second half and then saw defender Ronald Araujo sent off.
Madrid was mostly in control against Betis, but Vinícius Júnior, Karim Benzema and Rodrygo failed to capitalize on their scoring chances.
Barcelona and Madrid will play their final league game on March 19 at the Camp Nou.
“It's not over yet,” Madrid's Lucas Vázquez said. “We know it's going to be tough, but we will fight until the end. We really think we can make a run.”
Barcelona had lost two in a row — against Manchester United in the Europa League and Almeria in the league — before coming up with the big Copa victory against Madrid at the Bernabéu.
Raphinha scored against Valencia with a header after a well-placed pass by Sergio Busquets in the 15th minute. Torres missed the penalty in the 55th and four minutes later Araujo was sent off for stopping a breakaway.
Barcelona got the win despite still missing some of its top players, including Robert Lewandowski, the league’s leading scorer. Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri also didn’t play because of injuries, while playmaker Gavi was out because of a yellow-card suspension.
“We are not being effective up front and end up suffering to close out matches,” said Barcelona coach Xavi, who watched from the stands because of a suspension.
Madrid was without midfielder Luka Modric because of a yellow-card suspension. Carlo Ancelotti's team is winless in three straight matches after defeating Liverpool 5-2 in the first leg of the round of 16 in the Champions League.
Benzema scored from a free kick in the 12th but the goal was called off after video review because the ball deflected slightly off the arm of Madrid defender Antonio Rüdiger.
Betis saw its three-game winning streak end but it remained in fifth place, three points behind fourth-place Real Sociedad in the final Champions League spot.
Valencia was trying to win two in a row after a run of six consecutive losses in all competitions. It went into the Camp Nou inside the relegation zone and missing several players because of injury, including veteran striker Edinson Cavani. Valencia is in 19th place, two points from safety.
It was Valencia’s third game with coach Rubén Baraja in charge after he replaced Gennaro Gattuso. Singaporean club owner Peter Lim still faces protests from Valencia fans who accuse him of poor administration and not caring for the club’s interests.
Valencia unsuccessfully demanded a penalty kick when Fran Pérez was brought down by Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessié inside the area in the 85th.
Valladolid defeated Espanyol 2-1 in a match between two clubs trying to stay far from the relegation zone.
Iván Sánchez scored in the 25th and Álvaro Aguado in the 62nd for Valladolid, which moved to 14th place, two points clear from the drop zone.
Martin Braithwaite netted in the 87th for Espanyol, which was 12th but stayed with the same 27 points as Valladolid.
Valladolid hadn’t won in three straight matches. Espanyol had won two in a row.
Seventh-place Rayo Vallecano and eighth-place Athletic Bilbao drew 0-0 in a result that kept the clubs from moving up into the European qualification places.
Athletic nearly came away with the road win when Nico Williams' stoppage-time shot struck the crossbar.
Both teams are winless in four straight league matches. ___
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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press