Barcelona, Valencia stay up with leaders
( 2003-09-15 10:40) (Agencies)
Barcelona and Valencia scored workmanlike league victories on Sunday to stay within two points of leaders Deportivo Coruna and match the pace of title favourites Real Madrid.
Barca had to withstand a late comeback from 10-man Albacete before securing a 2-1 victory through an early strike from Philip Cocu and a second-half Luis Enrique fluke.
Valencia had an equally tough ride at home to Malaga, eventually sealing a first home victory of the season with a scrambled goal by centre-back Carlos Marchena a minute before half-time.
Those hard-earned results gave both Barcelona and Valencia seven points from three matches and took them up to third and fourth respectively.
Deportivo lead the table with nine points after extending their perfect record with a 2-1 win at Sevilla on Saturday, while Real Madrid's sparkling 7-2 win at home to Valladolid keeps them in second, ahead of Barca and Valencia on goal difference.
Barcelona must have been dreaming of a similarly emphatic win over modest Albacete after Cocu's blazing drive in the second minute gave them a perfect start.
Strikers Patrick Kluivert and Javier Saviola both looked out of touch, though, and the few clear chances Barca created over the remainder of the first half were squandered.
Ronaldinho was the one bright spark for Barcelona, the Brazilian almost adding a second goal with a free kick that hit the bar and delighting even the Albacete fans with a couple of pieces of trickery.
Barcelona eventually got their second after 67 minutes, with midfielder Luis Enrique's shot striking a defender and bouncing back off his leg to balloon over the goalkeeper Carlos Roa.
Albacete had Francisco Pena sent off soon afterwards for dissent but they still pulled a goal back when Pablo smashed in on the rebound after a good save from Victor Valdes.
Barcelona managed to hold on for a nervous couple of minutes of injury-time but coach Frank Rijkaard will know that, even with Ronaldinho, his side have a lot of work to do before they can be considered serious rivals for Real Madrid.
Real's 7-2 win over Valladolid on Saturday featured a hat-trick from Raul, brilliant finishes from Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo and provided the perfect platform for their assault on the Champions League, starting against Olympique Marseille on Tuesday.
Two other sides hit goalscoring form in the third round of matches. Ismael Urzaiz and Joseba Etxeberria each netted twice for Athletic Bilbao in a 4-0 win at home to Real Mallorca on Sunday, while Real Zaragoza claimed a 3-0 success at home to Murcia.
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