Leaders Barcelona shocked by Almeria in second Liga defeat

AFP , Sunday 26 Feb 2023

La Liga leaders Barcelona tumbled to an embarrassing 1-0 defeat at Almeria on Sunday, failing to capitalise on Real Madrid's derby draw with Atletico to extend their advantage.

Barcelona s Robert Lewandowski leaves the pitch at the end of the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Almeria and Barcelona at the Juegos Mediterraneos stadium in Almeria, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023. Almeria won 1-0. AP


El Bilal Toure's fine first half strike split the teams and earned Almeria their first ever victory over Barca, inflicting only the second defeat of the league campaign on the Catalans.

Xavi Hernandez's side still have a seven-point lead over champions Madrid, but their morale took a further blow following their midweek Europa League exit against Manchester United.

Barca face Madrid in a Clasico Copa del Rey semi-final first leg on Thursday at the Santiago Bernabeu, with their vulnerabilities starting to show.

Victory over Almeria would have stretched their advantage in the title race to double figures, as they bid to win La Liga for the first time since 2019, but they could not capitalise on Madrid's 1-1 draw on Saturday against Atletico.

Carlo Ancelotti's side beat Barcelona in the league in October and Almeria ended Barca's subsequent 13-game unbeaten league run.

Xavi, already without injured trio Pedri, Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati, took a risk and rotated heavily, with Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, Raphinha and Alejandro Balde dropping out.

The Barcelona line-up lacked creativity on paper and so it proved, as they struggled to forge any chances of note in the first half at the Power Horse Stadium.

The lowly hosts, starting the game 19th with just one victory in their prior eight league games, were on top in the first half and went ahead through Toure's emphatic finish.

The Mali international cushioned a long ball into striker Luis Suarez's path, before spinning and breaking forward at pace.

Suarez lofted a pass over Andreas Christensen and Toure ran on to it, lashing an effort past Marc-Andre ter Stegen and in off the crossbar.

It was only the eighth league goal Barcelona have condeded this season, stopping Ter Stegen adding to his impressive tally of 17 clean sheets.

Xavi took action at half-time, replacing the ineffective Franck Kessie with Raphinha, reverting to a more traditional 4-3-3.

The coach was booked in the second half for arguing, while Gavi and Raphinha also saw yellow cards, with all three now suspended for Valencia's visit to Camp Nou next Sunday.

Marcos Alonso did well to block a powerful Suarez strike in the second half as Rubi's Almeria sought to double their lead.

The hosts kept La Liga top scorer Robert Lewandowski quiet at the other end, with the Polish striker and his team-mates unable to trouble Almeria goalkeeper Fernando Martinez.

Defender Araujo, thrown on by Xavi in desperation, directed a header inches wide of the far post but that was as close as Barcelona came.

Ter Stegen made a brilliant save to deny Adrian Embarba on the counter and Almeria defended bravely to see out an historic victory.

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