Barcelona see record run ended by strugglers Gijon

Barcelona see record run ended by strugglers Gijon

Barcelona had won 16 consecutive league games to beat the old mark of the great Real Madrid side of 1960/61. But the champions saw their historical sequence broken yesterday and the two dropped points are a real boost for title rivals Real.

Barcelona are now eight points ahead of Real in the Spanish first division and Jose Mourinho's side will want to capitalise on the rare slip by winning at Espanyol on Sunday.

Unfashionable Sporting, two points above the relegation zone, took the lead through David Barral after 16th minutes and Barcelona needed a delightful chip from Villa late on to snatch a point.

It was the first away points dropped all season for Barcelona, who had won all 10 of their away games prior to this game, and coach Pep Guardiola will hope for a better display on Wednesday when his side travel to Arsenal for the first leg of their last 16 Champions League tie.

A fired-up Sporting started the better of the two sides and took a surprise 16th-minute lead as Barral cut inside from the left flank and left Gerard Pique in his wake before firing low into the corner.

Barcelona don't often go behind and found it difficult to respond against hosts who defended deep in numbers.

The champions didn't have a noteworthy effort on goal until just after the half hour mark when Andres Iniesta dribbled past his marker and shot across goal but goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar saved well.

On 53 minutes Brazilian right back Dani Alves nipped past his man and cut the ball back for Xavi but the Spanish international scuffed his shot and Cuellar smothered the effort.

Two minutes later Lionel Messi was foiled by Cuellar at his near post and the outstanding Alves almost scored a minute later.

Sporting could barely get out of their half but Barcelona did not make the breakthrough until the 79th minute with Villa showing great vision to float a delightful chip over Cuellar.
Villa did not celebrate the goal out of respect for hometown club Gijon where he began his career before going on to become a world superstar.

Elsewhere the future of Atletico Madrid coach Quique Sanchez Flores is hanging by a thread after a Joaquin brace helped Valencia to a 2-1 comeback win at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday.

Joaquin scored an 86th minute winner to punish Atletico, who have won just once in 2011 under Flores, and Valencia move two points above Villarreal into third place.

Atletico are seven points off the top six, with the the pre-season target of Champions League football out of sight, and Flores could face the axe with his old team Valencia, where he played for 10 years and who he managed for two seasons, possibly putting the final nail in his coffin.

"The fans cheer me up because they appreciate things and that's why I will do everything I possibly can to turn things around," said Flores.

Atletico got the perfect start with Jose Antonio Reyes putting them ahead after just three minutes, however, Joaquin levelled for Valencia on 41 minutes.

Uruguayan World Cup star Diego Forlan missed a crucial penalty on 56 minutes and Joaquin scored a fine winner curling in a right-footed shot from just outside the area with four minutes left.

It propelled Valencia into third and was the perfect preparation for their Champions League last 16 first leg match at home to Schalke on Tuesday.

In other matches, struggling Racing Santander host Sevilla at El Sardinero later on Saturday with new Racing coach Marcelino hoping for a win in his first match in charge.