Barcelona slip further behind Atletico Madrid in La Liga title race as Suarez haunts old side

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BARCELONA have made a lot of curious decisions throughout a year of internal turmoil, including making Lionel Messi so disaffected that he almost left the club in the summer and probably will do so later this year.

High up on any list charting the moment of rashness must include the decision to sanction the sale of Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan may be an irascible fellow in the closing phase of his career – he turned 34 at the weekend – but to allow him to not only leave but to a championship rival borders on the inexplicable and negligible.

Still, Barca’s loss has undoubtedly proven to be Atletico Madrid’s gain. Suarez marked his birthday on Sunday with his 12th league goal of the season as Atleti came from behind to defeat Valencia 3-1. Their lead at the top of La Liga now stands at seven points and they still have a game in hand.

Suarez won four league titles as a Barcelona player – as well as four Spanish Cups, two Super Cups and the 2015 Champions League –  and now looks to be well on his way to picking up a first major honour with another Spanish team.

His former club at least kept up the pretence of a championship pursuit as goals from Frenkie de Jong and Riqui Puig helped see off Elche and lift the Catalans into third spot.

Ronald Koeman’s men, though, still trail Atletico by 10 points at the midway point of the campaign and it would take a minor miracle to overturn that deficit in the homeward strait.

The same goes for Real. The defending champions currently sit between their city and Clasico rivals in second spot and made light work of defeating Alaves 4-1 at the weekend, atoning slightly for their midweek Spanish Cup defeat to third division side Alcoyano.

There was a similarly seismic shock in Italian football at the weekend as Milan inexplicably capitulated at home to Atalanta, going down 3-0.

It was only a second league defeat of the season for the Serie A leaders who were undone by goals from Cristian Romero and Duvan Zapata either side of a Josip Ilicic penalty.

It could actually have been worse for Stefano Pioli’s men who would have been replaced at the summit by their neighbours had they managed to eke out a victory. Instead, Inter could only draw with Udinese to remain two points back at the halfway mark.

Roma and Juventus enhanced their admittedly slim title chances with victories over Spezia and Bologna respectively, with Aaron Hickey an unused substitute as his team went down 2-0 in the Allianz Stadium.

In France, PSG continue to move through the gears under Maurcio Pochettino. The defending champions thrashed Montpellier 4-0 on Friday night, with Kylian Mbappe scoring twice and Neymar and Mauro Icardi getting the others.

That win saw them establish a three-point lead at the top of Ligue 1 but chasers Lille and Lyon both picked up the gauntlet with victories of their own over the weekend.

Lille won narrowly away to Rennes to draw level with PSG at the top, while Lyon remain a further two points back thanks to a 5-0 mauling of St Etienne away from home.

In Germany, Bayern Munich’s pursuit of a ninth successive Bundesliga title is in danger of becoming a coronation.

They thrashed bottom side Schalke 4-0 to move seven points clear but even that wasn’t enough to earn fulsome praise from their manager.

“I am not totally satisfied,” said Hansi Flick. “We scored four goals but I could see that at times we could improve our possession game.” Tough crowd.

As tends to happen every season in Germany, the chasing pack again made life easier for the record champions by failing miserably to keep pace.

Second-placed RB Leipzig lost 3-2 to second-bottom Mainz, Bayer Leverkusen were beaten at home by Wolfsburg, Union Berlin went down to Augsburg and Borussia Dortmund were walloped away to Borussia Monchengladbach, making it a case of when not if Bayern will be crowned champions once again.

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