Rival watch: FC Barcelona still leaders, Manchester City stumble ahead of Champions League clash

Rival watch: FC Barcelona still leaders, Manchester City stumble ahead of Champions League clash

Real Madrid top Levante to keep pace with Barça; Atlético Madrid draw at Espanyol as Valencia enter picture in La Liga Wednesday's Champions League opponents Manchester City suffer disappointing Premier League setback

While FC Barcelona were able to win on the road at Eibar on Saturday afternoon, the Catalans' closest rivals in the Spanish First Division and their current opponents in the UEFA Champions League ended the weekend with mixed results in domestic-league action.

Madrid keep pace

Real Madrid, which coughed up first place in La Liga after falling to Athletic Club at the new San Mamés last weekend, managed to keep pace with new leaders Barça by dispatching Levante 2–0 on Sunday night at the Santiago Bernabéu. Madrid started the game four points behind the Catalans following Barça's victory over Eibar, but got three of them back to maintain a one-point deficit in the standings.

Although Real were able to keep pace in the standings, their top scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo, was held scoreless by Levante and fell behind Leo Messi, the league's leading goalscorer. Ronaldo had led the league in scoring virtually all season long, with Messi a full ten goals back as recently as mid-January. Messi then launched an all-out assault on the top spot, finally drawing even last weekend with three goals in 12 minutes versus Rayo Vallecano. The Barça striker moved ahead of his Madrid counterpart 32–30 after Saturday's brace at Ipurua.

Both the team and the individual battles are on a collision course, as this season's second El Clásico between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid is set for Sunday 22 March at 9.00pm CET at Camp Nou. Real Madrid beat Barça 3–1 back in October, but this meeting, whatever the result, promises to be pivotal, as both teams come charging down the home stretch of the league season.

Atlético draw

Just before the Eibar–Barça battle kicked off at Ipurua in the Basque Country on Saturday afternoon, reigning La Liga champions Atlético de Madrid were wrapping up their encounter on the outskirts of Barcelona, where they played to a lacklustre 0–0 draw with RCD Espanyol at Cornellà-El Prat. Atlético — third in La Liga heading into the weekend — actually began Saturday's match in fourth place after Valencia beat Deportivo 2–0 at Mestalla on Friday night to provisionally leapfrog Cholo Simeone's squad in the league standings.

Atlético, nevertheless, could have jumped right back into the top three with a win, but saw their hopes dashed just before halftime when central defender Miranda was duly shown a straight red card for throwing a reckless elbow into Abraham's head. Despite playing down a man the entire second half, Atlético managed to keep Espanyol from scoring. The tie, however, left them in fourth place with 56 points, one point behind surging Valencia.

Manchester City fall

In English Premier League action, Manchester City lost 1–0 on the road at Burnley on Saturday night. The frustrating defeat leaves City six points behind leaders Chelsea, who, just as disappointingly, could only manage a 1–1 draw with Southampton on Sunday — their second straight stalemate at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea's first home draw of the week, 2–2 to ten-man Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night, eliminated José Mourinhos's team from Champions League play on away goals. 

Manchester City hope to avoid a similar fate versus Barça on Wednesday night, when they visit Camp Nou for the return leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. Kick off is scheduled for 8.45pm CET. Luis Enrique's squad won the first leg, 2–1, at the Etihad Stadium, back on 24 February.

[[BOTOVERMELL::La Liga Table++::http://www.fcbarcelona.com/football/first-team/spanish-league::HOR::::NO-TRACKING::::::]]

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