MADRID: Girona made their strong case to be considered a genuine contender for the Spanish league title by beating Catalan rivals Barcelona 4-2 on Sunday and overtaking Real Madrid at the top of the standings.
Ukraine forward Artem Dovbyk and Viktor Tsygankov teamed up for Girona’s opener, and Miguel Gutierrez, Valery Fernandez and Cristhian Stuani scored a goal each to seal the away victory against the defending league champions. Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gundogan scored Barcelona’s goals.
The statement win moved Girona two points ahead of Madrid, who drew 1-1 with Real Betis on Saturday. Barcelona dropped to fourth place, seven points behind their regional rival and five behind Madrid. Atletico Madrid regained third place with a 2-1 win over last-place Almeria to extend their winning streak at home in the league to 17 matches. Atletico hae the same 34 points as Barcelona with a game in hand.
Barcelona had never lost in six matches against Girona in the league, with four wins and two draws.
“Girona deserves a lot of credit. It has a great team,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said. “It was an even match, it could have gone either way. It also would have been a fair result if we had won it.”
Girona, partly owned by Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi ownership, never looked like the minnow club against Barcelona on Sunday, showing maturity and poise from the start at the Lluis Companys Olympic Stadium.
The team coached by Míchel Sanchez, sporting a white and blue uniform with similar colors to Man City, has been playing some of the best soccer in Spain and holding on to its position near the top from the start of the season.
“It’s a special victory, it gives us the lead,” Michel said. “Very happy with the result because we faced a great Barça team.”
Girona had won 12 of their first 15 league matches, though it had failed in their first big test when they lost 3-0 to Real Madrid at home in September.
There was no problem against Barcelona, though.
The visitors opened the scoring in a breakaway in the 12th minute. Dovbyk found the net from close range after completing a low cross by his countryman Tsygankov. Barcelona equalized with a header by Lewandowski off a corner kick taken by Raphinha in the 19th, but Girona retook the lead in the 40th with a nice shot by Gutierrez into the top corner from inside the area.
Fernandez scored Girona’s third in the 80th before Barcelona pulled closer with Gundogan’s goal two minutes into stoppage time. Stuani restored Girona’s two-goal advantage five minutes into injury time.
The game between Granada and Athletic Bilbao was suspended after a fan suffered a cardiac arrest and died in the stands.
Granada said the fan had been a season ticket holder for 16 years. No further details were given about the fan’s identity.
The match will restart on Monday night from the 17th minute with Athletic leading 1-0. Iñaki Williams had put the visitors ahead in the sixth minute.
17 IN A ROW
Atletico won their 17th consecutive match at home to extend their biggest winning run in the competition as a host.
Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa scored a goal each in the first half before Almeria pulled one back through Leo Baptistao after halftime.
Atletico will have a game in hand after the weekend’s round. Diego Simeone’s team were coming off a 1-0 loss at Barcelona in the previous league round. They had won 11 of their last 13 matches in all competitions before that defeat in Barcelona.
“We know there’s still a long way to go. We lost the other day but it wasn’t the end of it,” Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann said. “We have to keep playing like this.”
Atletico’s last setback at home in the league was a 1-1 draw with Getafe in February.
Morata opened the scoring in the 17th minute after dribbling past a defender and then the goalkeeper inside the area. Correa added to the lead five minutes later from close range after a low cross by Marcos Llorente.
The assist for Morata’s goal came from Griezmann, who had a goal disallowed for offside in the fifth minute. The France forward remains three goals shy of the 173 scored by Luis Aragonés, the club’s all-time leading scorer.
Baptistao scored from close range for Almeria in the 62nd.
It was the 12th league loss for the club from southern Madrid, who remain the only team without a win this season. They stayed on four points from four draws. The Saudi-owned club this week was eliminated by fourth-division team Barbastro in the second round of the Copa del Rey.
Also Sunday, relegation-threatened Cadiz saw their winless streak in all competitions reach 14 matches after a 1-1 draw with Osasuna at home.