Barcelona's Lionel Messi (L) failed to score against La Liga struggler Elche.
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Barcelona set up a winner-takes-all clash against Atletico Madrid on the last day of the season after they drew 0-0 against strugglers Elche and Atleti were held at home by Malaga.
The results mean Barca and Atletico will face each other at the Nou Camp in a Primera Division title showdown next Sunday, with only a win enough for Gerardo Martino’s side to claim the league honors. Atletico lead Barca by three points following the two draws on Sunday but victory for Barca would give them their 23rd Liga crown on head-to-head record, having drawn with Atleti earlier in the season.
If the Catalan side are to do that, though, they will have to find a much more cohesive performance than the one they showed against Elche, who made sure of their top-flight survival with the goalless draw.
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It all started quite promisingly for Barca at Estadio Martinez Valero when Andres Iniesta hit the bar in the 13th minute with a 20-yard volley. Lionel Messi then curled a left-footed effort from the right 10 minutes later from 20 yards, but Elche keeper Manu Herrera turned it behind for a corner.
Cesc Fabregas took the resulting set-piece and again Manu was on hand to keep out Alexis Sanchez’s close-range header as Barca struggled to make the breakthrough. Messi had another shot from distance blocked by David Lomban on the half-hour mark before Pedro put a header wide.
Elche had a chance at the other end when Ruben Perez del Marmol’s free-kick found Carles Gil, who headed the ball towards the Barcelona goal where Jose Pinto made a save. The action quickly returned to the other end, though, and again Manu was Elche’s savior as he tipped a Messi free-kick around the post before defender Sergio Pelegrin cleared the resulting corner taken by Fabregas.
Sanchez had another punt on goal with a strike from distance but again Manu was on hand to save as the sides went into half-time locked at 0-0. Messi than squandered a golden opportunity to put his side ahead early in the second half but Manu closed down the diminutive striker, who hit his effort straight at the keeper as the chance went begging.
Elche striker Garry Rodrigues then got the better of Dani Alves to send a dipping strike just over the Barca bar as the home side’s confidence seemed to be on the rise. Barca survived a hairy moment when goalkeeper Pinto miscued a clearance and raced out of his area to mop up the danger, even dribbling past one forward before finally getting a pass away.
Manu then denied Alves and Sanchez as the Elche defense held strong before Rodrigues squandered another chance on the counter-attack when he fired another effort over the bar. Adriano went close with a curling effort in the 84th minute, sending Manu diving at full tilt, but the shot went just wide of the far post.
Barca won a dangerous free-kick on the left of the box but Xavi’s delivery could not beat Elche’s defense. As the clock ticked down, Barca launched a wave of desperate attacks but each one broke down, and when Sanchez won a free-kick in the dying moments it seemed to be the last chance for the visitors on a night of frustration.
Messi took the kick but Manu stood strong in goal and punched the ball to safety deep into injury time.