Real Madrid reclaims La Liga lead from Barcelona after two hours and staving off a Leganes upset

Morata celebrates one of his three goals. <br>(Reuters)
Morata celebrates one of his three goals.
(Reuters)

Real Madrid preserved the status quo in the La Liga title race on Wednesday – a two-point lead over Barcelona with a game in hand.

Going into Wednesday’s games, which were staggered in their kickoff times, the leaders from the capital seemed to have the easy assignment and the challengers from Catalonia the tricky one. Real traveled to relegation-threatened Leganes, which sports the least productive attack in the league. Barca had fourth-place Sevilla at home.

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Yet Barca rumbled to a simple 3-0 win, achieved in a span of just eight minutes. While Real also took an early 3-0 lead but let Leganes come back to 3-2 before bagging an insurance goal to claim a 4-2 victory.

Barcelona came close when Messi hammered a shot off the upright in the fourth minute and Ivan Rakitic’s header on a splendid Andres Iniesta cross looped just wide of Sergio Rico’s goal. At the other end, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen put in a strong one-on-one save on Steven N’Zonzi.

And then, in a blur, it was over. In the 25th minute, Lionel Messi ran through three defenders and cut back for Luis Suarez, who took a touch and then bicycled the ball into the net in a splendid fit of individual skill.


Three minutes hence, Rakitic launched Neymar, who squared the ball for Suarez. The Uruguayan cut it back across the box for Messi, who tucked it through Sergio Rico’s legs.


Then, in the coup de grace, Messi got his second with a low volley through traffic.


And that, well, was that. Barca, a team believed to be in some kind of existential crisis at several points this season, made quick work of dismissing a one-time title contender. Which began the wait to see what Real would do later in the day.

 

Zinedine Zidane’s men got off to a similarly quick start.

In the 15th minute, Marco Asencio sauntered through the Leganes defense and squared for James Rodriguez to hand the Colombian a dead-simple tap-in on a platter.


Three minutes later, Alvaro Morata got the first goal in his hat-trick with a slow but perfectly placed header.


And not five minutes after that, Mateo Kovacic freed Morata for his second, a beautiful shot to the top corner.


3-0. Like in Barcelona, it seemed all over well before half-time.

But well before the intermission, Leganes would get two of its own from a poorly-defended Gabriel tally.


And a corner kick that fell free in the goal mouth was knocked home by Luciano.


But mere minutes after half-time, Morata drove the final nail in the Leganes coffin, underscoring to the La Liga debutants that you’re unlikely to take points from the 32-time champions by giving up four goals. Morata rose highest on the James free kick and scored Real’s first hat-trick by a Spaniard since the great Raul prowled the Santiago Bernabeu.


The top end of La Liga remained unchanged on Wednesday. Except that Real now has nine games remaining and Barca eight. Time is running out for the two-time defending champions to prevent Real from ending a four-season title drought.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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