x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Aguero keeps title race open

Barcelona's lead over Real Madrid at the top of the Primera Liga has been reduced to four points following their second consecutive defeat.

Barcelona's lead over Real Madrid at the top of the Primera Liga has been reduced to four points following their second consecutive defeat. The Catalans, 12 points clear of their eternal foes just three weeks ago having lost just one game all season, were beaten 4-3 at Atletico Madrid on Sunday night. Sergio Aguero scored Atletico's dramatic late winner, meaning Barca have picked up just one point from their last three games. Their form contrasts sharply with Real who have won their last 10 league games.

Previously considered a forgone conclusion, the title race is now gripping the country. Thierry Henry put Barca ahead with a curled shot over Leo Franco from outside the penalty area. When Lionel Messi doubled the Catalans' lead after leaving the Atletico defence bewildered, Barca appeared to have put their poor form behind them. Little could be done to stop Diego Forlan's long effort for Atletico's first goal, but a Rafael Marquez mistake allowed the prodigious Aguero to equalise early in the second-half.

Just when the 50,000 Vicente Calderon crowd sensed that the momentum had swung Atletico's way, Barca regained the lead through a second Henry goal. For all their guile and attacking verve, Barca's naivety was exposed 10 minutes from time when Henry fouled Florent Sinama Pongolle in the area. Forlan converted the penalty and the home crowd again smelled blood. It was dramatic late winner, but even Messi would have been proud of compatriot Aguerro's effort after the Argentinian skipped beyond Carlos Puyol and finished past Victor Valdes into a bottom corner.

It was no fluke: Aguerro was the difference in the corresponding fixture last season, scoring twice and creating a third in a 4-2 win. Valencia were booed off the pitch as their dreadful form continued in a 2-1 at home to Real Valladolid. Fourth placed Villarreal drew 2-2 at Real Betis after taking a two goal lead. Malaga were surprisingly beaten at home 2-0 by fellow Andalusians Recreativo Huelva. Bottom club Numancia suffered a seventh successive defeat, losing 1-0 at home to Deportivo La Coruna.

Mallorca's recovery continued with a 1-0 win at Sporting Gijon thanks to a superb free-kick from Juan Arango. The Islanders moved out of the relegation places for the first time this season, cllimbing to 16th in the table. amitten@thenational.ae