Football

Published: Thursday March 27, 2014 MYT 8:12:04 AM
Updated: Thursday March 27, 2014 MYT 8:12:04 AM

Costa header keeps Atletico on top as Real lose again

Barcelona's Neymar celebrates his second goal against Celta de Vigo during their La Liga's soccer match at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona March 26, 2014. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino

Barcelona's Neymar celebrates his second goal against Celta de Vigo during their La Liga's soccer match at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona March 26, 2014. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Diego Costa's header gave Atletico Madrid a 1-0 victory over Granada on Wednesday that lifted them a point clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga as Real Madrid slipped to third after losing 2-1 at Sevilla.

Neymar struck twice to inspire Barcelona to a 3-0 win over Celta Vigo but the victory was soured by a torn cruciate knee ligament for goalkeeper Victor Valdes who will now miss the rest of the season.

Atletico continued their remarkable season as Costa nodded home a Jose Sosa cross after 63 minutes for a win over Granada that put them on 73 points.

Barcelona have 72 and Real are three points off the pace on 70 after suffering their second consecutive defeat.

"We weren't precise with our passing and we needed to link up better. We suffered against a side that went out to play on the counter," Atletico coach Diego Simeone told a news conference.

"We moved the ball around better in the second half with the midfielders linking up with the forwards and I think we did enough to win the game."

Barcelona were brimming with confidence after their weekend Clasico victory over Real and Neymar scored from close range to put them ahead after six minutes before Lionel Messi slotted home on the half-hour mark.

Neymar latched on to a long ball from Alexis Sanchez and scored his ninth league goal of the season to complete the rout in the second half.

A deflected Cristiano Ronaldo free kick gave Real the lead against Sevilla but the Andalusian side responded with a double from Carlos Bacca to record their sixth successive league win and they now have 50 points in fifth.

HIGH INTENSITY

Atletico played at their usual high intensity but they struggled to break down a Granada side who also worked hard.

Arda Turan fired wide from a tight angle and the Turk also failed to hit the target when well placed in the centre of the penalty area after being set up by Cristian Rodriguez.

Granada came more into the game with Youssef El-Arabi heading wide from a corner and the striker had a powerful shot from outside the area that went close.

It was not one of Atletico's strongest performances but after Diego Costa broke the deadlock they were able to control the match by maintaining possession in the middle of the pitch.

Real started brightly against Sevilla with Karim Benzema causing problems for the Andalusian defence. Fortune was on their side when a free kick from Ronaldo came off the wall and went in the goal after wrong-footing keeper Antonio Beto.

But Ancelotti's men, missing the suspended Sergio Ramos at the back, did not look comfortable as Sevilla threatened on the break. Xabi Alonso gave the ball away and Jose Antonio Reyes found Bacca, who levelled the scores.

Sevilla came more into the game having found their confidence and Ivan Rakitic directed the play from midfield.

Ronaldo hit the post before the break but in the second half Rakitic made a fine run before finding Bacca to score.

Xavi was among players rested for Barca but the changes made little difference against Celta as they stroked the ball around and Neymar, badly in need of a boost after a subdued run, knocked in an Alexis cross.

It looked comfortable for Barca as Neymar then hit a shot narrowly wide and Messi was denied by a Yoel Rodriguez save, but at the other end Adriano was booked for handball on the edge of the area and Valdes picked up the injury saving Fabian Orellana's free kick.

Barca pressed forward and it was a trademark linkup between Andres Iniesta and Messi that set up the Argentine to knock the ball past the keeper for their second.

Despite dropping their level after the break and substitute keeper Jose Manuel Pinto being forced into a double save from Augusto Fernandez and Santi Mina, Barca extended their lead through Neymar.

(Editing by Ed Osmond) nL4N0MN4UI

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