Barcelona's supermen finally hit some kryptonite in the shape of mid-table Betis and a rampant Real Madrid took full advantage with a 4-0 win over Sporting Gijon that closed the gap at the top to 10 points and continued their impressive run of eight consecutive wins ahead of the visit of Liverpool in nine days time.
"Madrid's season is all about the Champions League whereas we are still alive in the Premier League," Rafa Benitez had told the Spanish press this weekend, but the current La Liga Champions watched Barca draw 2-2 with Betis and then played some of their best football since Juande Ramos took over at the club last December.
"We are a bit closer to them after this weekend's results," said the former Tottenham coach. "It is still difficult because the gap is 10 points but we have to keep going in the same vein. This run we are on is giving the players confidence."
Without injured winger Arjen Robben, Ramos switched to a 3-5-2 using Sergio Ramos and Brazilian Marcelo as marauding wing-backs and the result was emphatic.
"I have always said that we are not reliant on Robben and we have shown tonight that we are capable of winning and winning well without him," he added, having now picked up 24 of a possible 27 points and conceding just three goals since taking over.
It was Sergio Ramos' drilled cross from the right on 15 minutes which Raul met perfectly with a crisp volley to put Madrid ahead and make him the club's all-time leader goal-scorer – his 308th goal moving him one clear of Alfredo Di Stefano. On 36 minutes Klass van Huntelaar made it two, coolly finishing after latching on to a Gonzalo Higuain header. In the second half Marcelo burst forward to finish another Higuain assist and then Raul scored from close range.
Earlier Barcelona had drawn for the second time this season with bogey team Betis and they might easily have left with nothing had Samuel Eto'o not scored his 100th and 101st goals for the club to salvage a point.
Europe's top scorer struck twice to take his tally for the season to 23 in 22 games and get Barcelona back into a match they looked losing after the home side took an early two-goal lead.
Melli put Betis ahead from an Emana corner and former Liverpool forward Mark Gonzalez scored from a Sergio Garcia cross to make it 2-0.
Eto'o led the Barca comeback converting the rebound from his own missed penalty after Andres Iniesta had been fouled but with Ricardo inspired in the Betis goal they had to wait until six minutes from time before Eto'o equalised. After scoring he ran to the Barca bench shouting 'I told you! I told you!' at coach Pep Guardiola before being congratulated by his manager.
Guardiola explained afterwards: "He had asked me to play a more central role in the attack but I had preferred to use him out on the right and Messi through the middle. I impose the order on the team but it is the players that are out there and sometimes they have to go with their instincts."Reuse content