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Thursday , October 22 2020

Real knock Barca off top sport – Enrique blames Barcelona defeat on European exploits

Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto (left), fights for the ball with Deportivo’s Alex Bergantinos during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Deportivo and Barcelona at the Riazor Stadium in A Coruna, Spain on March 12. (AP)

BARCELONA, March 13, (RTRS): Zinedine Zidane praised his Real Madrid side for coming through a testing game with Real Betis to win 2-1 at the Bernabeu on Sunday and knock rivals Barcelona off the top of La Liga. Real fell behind to an embarrassing own goal by goalkeeper Keylor Navas in the first half but turned things around with a diving header from top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo before the break and a late headed goal by captain Sergio Ramos from a corner. Real top the standings on 62 points, two above Barcelona who suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at struggling Deportivo La Coruna four days after their epic 6-1 win over Paris St Germain at the Nou Camp took them into the Champions League quarter-finals. Zidane’s side also have a game in hand on Barca and third-placed Sevilla in their bid for a first Liga title since 2012.

“We didn’t have it all our own way and that’s normal, but I am happy. We must congratulate all the players because we had to be patient, the result was fair in the end even if it didn’t all go our way for the whole game,” Zidane told reporters. “They (Betis) played most of the game in their own half, they defended well and caused us problems on the counter attack but we’re happy with the result because it wasn’t easy. The pressure was on us but it doesn’t end here, there’s still a lot to play for and we know that.”

Betis were the third team in four games to take the lead against Real after Las Palmas and Napoli and on each occasion Zidane’s side got back in the game with a goal from a set piece. Zidane also backed Navas after Real fans booed the keeper, who turned a soft shot from Antonio Sanabria into his own net and had been fortunate not to be sent off earlier in the match for upending Betis winger Darko Brasanac. The Costa Rican compensated for his howler, however, with a vital save to prevent Sanabria from equalising in added time. “Everyone makes mistakes, they’re part of the game and everyone supported him in the dressing room at halftime,” added Zidane. “Keylor has a big personality and he made a great stop at the end. He made up for the mistake and made sure we got all three points.”

Meanwhile, coach Luis Enrique blamed Barcelona’s shock 2-1 La Liga defeat at lowly Deportivo La Coruna on the exertions of their sensational midweek 6-1 Champions League win over Paris St Germain. Depor began the game 17th in the standings while Barca, who had won 8-0 at Riazor last year, were looking to tighten their grip on top spot but instead lost for the first time in the league since they were beaten at Celta Vigo on Oct. 2. Barca could be knocked off from the top of the standings by Real Madrid if Zinedine Zidane’s side beat Real Betis in Sunday’s late game. Luis Enrique said he was disappointed his side could not build on the momentum gained from winning five games in a row and scoring 17 goals in their previous three.

Barca defender Gerard Pique added the comeback against PSG, where they overcame a 4-0 first leg defeat, had taken its toll. “Sport is like this, we aren’t machines and after the effort we made on Wednesday it was very difficult to compete again. We have to congratulate Deportivo, they were the deserved winners of this game,” he said. Pique also tried to put the week in perspective. “Every Barca fan would have signed up to coming back against PSG and then losing in Coruna,” he added. “We’ll continue to fight for the league title until the end. There’s still a long way to go and we’ll have chances to win it.”

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