Not content with having 24 hours longer to recover from this weekend’s league programme than Liverpool, Real Madrid raced into a 6-1 half-time lead against Real Betis on Saturday and were able to give Fabio Cannavaro, Raul and Gonzalo Higuain the second half off. They face Rafa Benitez’s side in 48 hours fresh and flying after a ninth straight win took them within seven points of Barcelona.
For some reason the big screens at the Nou Camp chose not to display the scores from elsewhere on Saturday. No word of the gap, 12 points a fortnight ago, being reduced to seven and no mention of Juande Ramos’ revolution claiming its ninth victim.
With both big guns kicking off at the same time the smart money was on two easy home wins. Barcelona were after all facing a team 42 points behind them. But Espanyol, who had not won since November dealt Barça their first defeat since August. Thierry Henry headed Messi’s cross over as Barça dominated the opening stages while 375 miles away Madrid went ahead, Gonzalo Higuain scoring from a Raul assist.
The chances dried up for Barça and the floodgates opened at the Bernabeu. Gabriel Heinze crossed and Klaas Jan Huntelaar headed in the second. The Dutchman scored the third at the second attempt. Ricardo Oliveira pulled one back for Real Betis but Raul made it 4-1, converting a Marcelo cross. Minutes later in Barcelona the leaders went down to 10 men when Seydou Keita was harshly given a straight red for a foul on Moises Hurtado. Madrid then added two more from Raul and Sergio Ramos.
As Real cruised through the second half the wheels came off for Barcelona. Thierry Henry was sacrificed as they tried to cope with going down to 10 men. Espanyol seized the initiative and Ivan De La Peña put them ahead after 50 minutes. The midfielder made it two after being gifted possession by Victor Valdes.
Yaya Touré scored on the hour to give Barcelona hope but there was no way back.