Real Madrid overcomes Las Palmas to reclaim lead of Spanish league
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Xavi Hernández said enough was enough after Barcelona again fell apart in a 5-3 home loss to Villarreal on Saturday, a defeat that left it 10 points behind Real Madrid in the Spanish league.
Xavi said moments after the stinging loss that he would not continue next season as the coach of the club that he once led as one of the finest midfielders to play the game.
In one of the wildest games of the season, Villarreal was up 2-0 then Barcelona roared back with three goals in a 12-minute span to lead 3-2 in the 72nd minute.
But Barcelona’s defense again let it down and new Villarreal arrival Goncalo Guedes leveled on a counterattack in the 84th. Striker Alexander Sorloth, who also set up two goals, then found the winner in stoppage time and José Morales added to Barcelona’s misery.
“As as Barcelona fan, I can’t allow this situation to continue, we need a change of course and of dynamics," said Xavi, who added he made the decision before the loss.
Barcelona was trying to bounce back in La Liga from its elimination from the Copa del Rey at Athletic Bilbao this week. Instead, its loss to an erratic Villarreal only added more pressure on the beleaguered Xavi.
Real Madrid rallied to win at Las Palmas 2-1 without top scorer Jude Bellingham and reclaim the league lead.
“This is a huge blow,” Xavi said. “We lost this game because of our mistakes. Today is difficult to digest for me as a coach but also for my players, who are all feeling really bad.
“We did the hardest part which was to turn it around, and we even had more chances to score, but that was when our problems started. We are paying a heavy price for our mistakes this season."
WHERE'S THE DEFENSE?
Gerard Moreno opened the scoring near halftime from a pass by Sorloth. Former Barcelona youth player Ilias Akhomach took full advantage of horrible control by João Cancelo, who came on at halftime, to double the advantage.
Ilkay Gundogan pulled one back for Barcelona in the 60th. Substitute Pedri González took a second before an own goal by Eric Baily put the hosts ahead.
Sorloth launched Guedes on the flank to beat goalkeeper Iñaki Peña from an angle to make it 3-3. The Norway striker put Villarreal back in front after Barcelona failed to clear the ball from its area.
“If you are losing 0-2 and then go up 3-2 you cannot give it away and lose like that,” Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong said. “This cannot happen to an elite team.”
Cancelo, like De Jong, backed Xavi and tried to take the blame as players.
“It truly was a disaster,” Cancelo said. “Those were the worst 45 minutes of my career.”
Barcelona’s defense, which is missing injured goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is falling apart in January.
Barcelona was crushed by Madrid 4-1 in the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, and on Wednesday it conceded twice in extra time to lose at Bilbao 4-2.
Vinícius Júnior and Aurélien Tchouaméni scored second-half goals for Madrid in the Canary Islands.
After a first half stalemate between the league’s top defenses, midfielder Javi Muñoz put Las Palmas ahead in the 53rd from a pass by Sandro Ramírez.
“We played a good first half against a great rival,” Muñoz said. “But when we went ahead, they took a step forward and we took a step back.”
Vinícius Júnior leveled in the 66th after a nice assist by Eduardo Camavinga. Tchouaméni then went on as a late substitute and powered in a header with six to play to complete the turnaround.
“We played well enough,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We were going up against a team that holds the ball well and doesn’t concede much. We had designed a game plan to control the first half and then press forward in the second. It is an important victory.”
Madrid moved two points ahead of Girona before it visits Celta Vigo on Sunday. Madrid also has an extra game to play. Las Palmas was in eighth place.
Bellingham was serving a one-game suspension for accumulating five yellow cards. He and Girona’s Artem Dovbyk lead the league with 14 goals each.
Real Betis won at Mallorca 1-0, while Real Sociedad drew with Rayo Vallecano 0-0.
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