Barcelona takes 11-point lead; Ronaldo scores 4 for Madrid
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By TALES AZZONI
MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid's title hopes were further damaged after it conceded two late goals in a 2-1 loss at Villarreal on Sunday, allowing Barcelona to open up an 11-point lead in the Spanish league with nine matches remaining.
Real Madrid, still far behind in the title race, is in third place after a 6-3 win over Girona with four goals by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Atletico looked set to keep pace with Barcelona at the top until Enes Unal led Villarreal to a come-from-behind win with goals in the 82nd minute and in injury time.
Antoine Griezmann had put Atletico ahead by converting a first-half penalty kick at Ceramica Stadium.
"We were controlling the game well but in the end they took advantage of those two plays," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. "We have to keep doing what we have been doing, keep trying to win as many points as possible."
Barcelona earlier defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at Camp Nou Stadium with another stellar performance by Lionel Messi, who scored a goal and helped set up the other.
Atletico striker Vitolo was sent off after Villarreal's second goal for shoving an opponent.
Villarreal moved to fifth place with its second straight victory.
Ronaldo scored once in the first half and three times in the second, reaching 21 goals in his last 11 matches in all competitions. The Portugal star also set up Lucas Vazquez's goal at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. Gareth Bale scored Madrid's other goal.
Ronaldo has scored at least one goal in his last eight matches, and he took his league tally to 22 goals, one more than Barcelona's Luis Suarez and three behind top scorer Messi.
"It's incredible," Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez said of Ronaldo. "Again he is showing that he is the best."
It was the fourth straight win in all competitions for Madrid, which moved within four points of Atletico. Madrid is 15 points behind Barcelona.
Messi added to his scoring streak with a first-half goal in Barcelona's win against Athletic, netting his eighth goal in six matches with a firm, low shot from outside the area in the 30th minute. He was also involved in the runup to Barcelona's first goal, a shot by Paco Alcacer from near the penalty spot after a low cross by Jordi Alba.
"Every day Messi shows he can do something different," said Alcacer, who hadn't scored in nearly three months.
Messi set the pace from the start and Barcelona was always in control at Camp Nou, comfortably earning its fourth straight win in all competitions.
The Argentina playmaker had scored twice in Barcelona's 3-0 win over Chelsea in the Champions League on Wednesday, helping the Catalan club reach the quarterfinals of the European competition.
Messi has scored at least a goal in his last six matches.
Sevilla lost 2-1 to Leganes, putting at risk its chances of securing a Europa League spot.
The loss in southern Madrid dropped Sevilla to sixth in the standings, the last automatic qualification spot for the second-tier European competition. It had already lost fifth place when Villarreal defeated Atletico Madrid 2-1, and it could have been surpassed by Girona.
Sevilla's recent struggles in the league left it virtually out of contention for a Champions League spot. It trails fourth-place Valencia by 14 points.
Sevilla was coming off a loss to Valencia in the previous round. It stayed alive in the Champions League by eliminating Manchester United in the round of 16 on Tuesday.
Unai Bustinza put Leganes in front with a header in the 41st minute at Butarque Stadium, sending the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico after a pass by Nabil El Zhar across the penalty area.
Javier Eraso added to the lead for the hosts in the 69th with a shot from near the penalty spot after a low cross by Diego Rico. Sevilla's lone goal was scored by Miguel Layun in the 90th.
Sevilla midfielder Pablo Sarabia was sent off in the 84th for a hard foul that prompted a second yellow card.
Celta Vigo could not manage more than a 0-0 draw against last-place Malaga, moving further away from a Europa League spot.
The disappointing performance at home left Celta in 10th place.
Malaga, which has only 14 points from 29 matches, had lost seven straight games.
More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
Updated March 18, 2018