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A potential turning point in the title race with el clásico looming

Barcelona did enough while Real Madrid faltered

FC Barcelona v Valencia CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by Silvestre Szpylma/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It all could have been much different.

FC Barcelona stumbled against Almeria last week, and Real Madrid salvaged a point against Atlético Madrid. Barcelona’s league lead, once looking insurmountable, took a hit. It stood at seven points at the start of the day, and it seemed like the lead would be cut down even further.

The Catalans got an early goal via Raphinha against Valencia CF at home, with Sergio Busquets playing in a beautiful lobbed assist. But things spiraled downhill, with Barça making key mistake after key mistake. Ferran Torres played a risky backpass to avoid, of all things, a throw in. Marc-André ter Stegen tried to bring it down but only succeeded in half-clearing it. By sheer luck, Valencia fumbled the chance that arose from that. Ferran then doubled his misery by missing a penalty.

Jules Koundé and Ronald Araujo got into a mix-up, with the former unnecessarily heading a ball back to the latter, who was not in position to receive. The ball instead went to an attacker and Araujo brought him down, earning himself a red card in the process.

A game that could have been relatively easy turned into an outright nightmare, with only a one goal lead and with more than a half hour to go. But Barça persevered, defending the lead with all they had. It was a win - only just, but three points nonetheless.

Madrid then went to Real Betis, and they thought they had a lead just 12 minutes in. A free kick hit by Karim Benzema seemed to take some sort of deflection and go into the back of the net. He celebrated for a few seconds before the ref informed him it was being checked by VAR. The replay showed that the ball had deflected off a teammate’s arm and into the net, making the action illegal.

After that, both teams had a few chances, but neither could score. It ended 1-1, and so rather than cutting into Barcelona’s lead, Madrid fell further away.

Heading into el clásico, it makes all the difference.

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Valencia pull the game level and Madrid find at least one goal. That would have put Madrid just five points away. Instead, they are nine points back of the league leaders.

At five points back, Madrid would be thinking one thing: win in the direct meeting, thus closing the gap to two points. Two points means slipping up with a draw in even just one match offers a chance for you to pull level on points.

Nine points is a completely different scenario. Of course, it’s not insurmountable. It’s only three matches, and Madrid would be thinking one of them was winning el clásico anyway. And let’s not forget there’s a game before that one. Barcelona travel to play Atheltic Bilbao (8th) while Madrid play Espanyol (12th) at home. We could be having a different conversation by this time next week. The Catalans have gone through an injury crisis lately, and now will be without Araujo due to the red card. Not to mention there are other tricky fixtures left after the date with Madrid.

Still, there’s a good chance that looking back, we could see today as a pivotal moment in the title race.

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