January 21, 2019 / 1:26 PM / a month ago

Soccer: Five talking points from the weekend in La Liga

MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona kept the pace at the top of La Liga with a 3-1 victory over Leganes that was marred by VAR controversy, maintaining their five-point advantage over Atletico in second.

Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - FC Barcelona v Leganes - Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain - January 20, 2019 Barcelona's Lionel Messi in action with Leganes' Nabil El Zhar REUTERS/Albert Gea

Real Madrid moved into third with a 2-0 win over Sevilla, while the race for the fourth Champions League spot hots up.

Here are five talking points from the weekend’s action in La Liga.MORE VAR CONTROVERSY

Last week, those in charge of Spain’s Video Assistant Referee programme released a statement explaining how the introduction of VAR had greatly reduced the number of officiating errors.

Yet the next round of fixtures in La Liga contained a number of contentious decisions that only led to more questions to be asked of VAR.

First, Athletic Bilbao were furious when, at 1-1, Inaki Williams had a late winner ruled out for offside at Villarreal. The linesman had initially flagged Yuri Berchiche, who centred for Williams, offside only for replays to appear to show both were onside.

However, the most controversial decision came as Luis Suarez’s effort put Barcelona 2-1 up against Leganes was allowed to stand.

The Uruguayan forward contested a 50-50 ball with the visitors’ goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar, just beating him to the ball, but his foot was raised and he made contact with Cuellar’s arm in his follow through.

A goal was signalled originally by the referee and VAR did not reverse the decision.COLD AND RAIN KEEPS FANS AWAYWhile fans of Spain’s top two teams can be notoriously demanding, they are also known for their disdain for the rain.

A wet and cold weekend ensured that many opted to stay in and watch on television as Barca and Real, not for the first time this season, were left red-faced at the number of emptyseats in their stadiums.

Real hosted Sevilla in what should have been the game of the weekend as third played fourth but howling winds and torrential downpours meant the 81,000-seater Bernabeu was far from full.

Twenty-four hours later, it was Barca’s turn to play in front of a half-full Nou Camp as dipping temperatures meant only 50,000 turned up in the Catalan capital for the Leganes game.

A REAL RESURGENCE

Those who did attend Real’s game witnessed what may have been their best performance of the season as they dominated their visitors and looked a far more cohesive unit than in recent weeks under Santiago Solari.

Casemiro’s stunning effort from long range gave them a deserved lead and Luka Modric’s injury-time goal sealed a win that suggests a timely revival in fortunes as they resume their quest to defend their Champions League title.REJUVENATED DEMBELE STRUCK BY INJURY

Many thought that Ousmane Dembele was just a panic buy by Barcelona when they shelled out more than 100 million Euros ($113.61 million) to bring him in from Dortmund following Neymar’s departure.

Yet the Frenchman is now demonstrating his worth, netting six times in his last 10 matches, including the openeragainst Leganes.

His pace and direct running were a threat to thevisitors all night before he hobbled off with a sprained ankle in the second half and Barca will be frustrated to lose him for two weeks just as he is hitting his stride.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SPOT UP FOR GRABS

While Barca, Atleti and Real look to have sewn upthe first three Champions League spots for next season, the battle is really on for the final spot.

Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - FC Barcelona v Leganes - Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain - January 20, 2019 Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their third goal with Jordi Alba REUTERS/Albert Gea

Sevilla are in pole position for the prize in fourth place on 33 points but just four points separates them from neighbours Betis in seventh.

Sixth-placed Getafe also showed their credentials with a 4-0 victory over Alaves on Friday, moving them to 31 points, just one point behind the fifth-place side they had just thrashed.

($1 = 0.8802 euros)

Reporting by Joseph Cassinelli, Editing by Ian Chadband

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