Barcelona kept its title hopes alive with a 1-0 win in the city derby against Espanyol in the Spanish league on Wednesday, sealing the rival's relegation for the first time in nearly three decades.
Luis Suárez scored the winning goal early in the second half to move Barcelona within a point of leader Real Madrid and send Espanyol to the second division after 26 straight seasons in the top flight.
Real Madrid can reclaim a four-point lead with three rounds left with a home win against relegation-threatened Alavés on Friday. Madrid, seeking its first league title in three years, has a perfect record since the league resumed following the coronavirus break.
“We knew it would be a difficult match because of Espanyol’s situation,” Suárez said. “We are going to keep trying to win our matches and see if Madrid falters.”
Only a win in the city derby could have kept last-place Espanyol with a chance of staying in the top tier. The club owned by Chinese businessman Chen Yansheng hasn't played in the second division since the 1993-1994 season. It had been among the teams with most consecutive seasons in the top flight, along with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao.
“We have to apologize to our fans for what we have made them go through,” Espanyol captain Javi López said. “This is a difficult moment. Nothing went right for us this season. We are committed to coming back stronger.”
It was the sixth straight loss for Espanyol, and its 11th consecutive league defeat away to Barcelona at the Camp Nou Stadium. It has 24 points from 35 matches — 11 points from safety.
Both teams went a man down to a straight red card early in the second half. Barcelona forward Ansu Fati was sent off after a hard foul on Fernando Calero in the 51st, and Espanyol midfielder Pol Lozano was ejected after a tough foul on Gerard Piqué in the 54th.
It didn't take long for Barcelona to take advantage of the extra space, and Suárez broke the deadlock from close range in the 56th after an exchange between Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi inside the area.
Griezmann, a starter for the second consecutive match after a lengthy period without getting many minutes, had already successfully teamed up with Messi in the team's 4-1 win at Villarreal in the previous round.
It was Suárez’s 195th goal for Barcelona, moving him past Ladislao Kubala to become the club’s third all-time highest scorer, behind César Rodríguez (232) and Messi (630).
Barcelona was in control from the start but Espanyol had some significant chances to open the scoring in the first half, hitting the post once and forcing goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen to make a tough save.
Barcelona, a two-time defending champion, next visits Valladolid on Saturday.
Villarreal kept alive its chances of qualifying for the Champions League with a 3-1 win at Getafe, moving within three points of fourth-place Sevilla.
Santi Cazorla scored penalties in the 66th and 86th minutes for Villarreal, which opened a four-point gap to sixth-place Getafe.
Getafe loudly complained of the referring and players from both teams got into an altercation after the final whistle.
Real Betis secured its stay in the first division with a comfortable 3-0 win over midtable Osasuna, ending a three-match winless streak.