With Real Madrid just two points further back, it means Spain’s “Big Three” are now separated by just three points as teams enter the final stretch of the season.
Atletico had enjoyed a comfortable lead at La Liga’s summit after a blistering start to the season, while both Barcelona and Real struggled to find form in the opening weeks. However, the pressure appears to be getting to Diego Simeone’s side, which has now won just two of its last five La Liga matches.
Barcelona, conversely, is on a blistering run and hasn’t tasted defeat domestically since the beginning of December, while Zinedine Zidane’s Real has lost just once since the end of November.
Though there was an element of good fortune to Dembele’s goal — the ball falling kindly after bouncing between two heads in the penalty area — it was nothing less than Barcelona deserved for its superiority throughout the 90 minutes.
Valladolid certainly looked threatening at times, even striking the crossbar in the first half, but a 79th-minute red card for Oscar Plano forced the side onto the back foot for the remainder of the match.
It was the perfect start to a potentially season-defining fortnight for Barcelona, with El Clasico coming up on Saturday and the 2021 Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao the following weekend.
After a rocky start to the season — during which head coach Ronald Koeman was rumored to be at risk of losing his job after only a matter of weeks — Barcelona now has its eyes firmly set of the domestic double.
Of course, huge questions still linger like a dark cloud over Barca; captain Lionel Messi could yet leave at the end of the season and the club continues to face historic levels of debt, but recent performances coupled with the emergence of young talent has given some hope for the future.
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