At 10.15pm on Sunday, Real were seven points clear of Barcelona and three above Atlético. Now they are chasing both
"Tickets please!" Back in 2007 Carlos Bacca was a bus conductor, going up and down the aisle on the twenty kilometre, half-hour journey between Baranquilla and his home town of Puerto Colombia on the Caribbean coast. When he wasn't on board he sold fish and played football. He was twenty years old and going nowhere, except to Baranquilla and back. Last night, seven years on, he scored twice against Real Madrid, defeating the most expensive team in history. He had changed the destiny of the league title and when he was substituted with eight minutes to go 45,000 fans at the Sánchez Pizjuán gave him a standing ovation.
They weren't the only ones. Bacca was also celebrated at the Calderón and the Camp Nou. The front cover of AS this morning shouts "It's burning!", which might not have been the most sensitive of headlines two days after Madrid striker Jesé's house caught fire, but you knew what they meant. At 10.15 on Sunday night, Real Madrid had a seven point lead over Barcelona and a three point lead over Atlético. But then Leo Messi scored twice and so did Carlos Bacca. Just before midnight three days later, they trailed Barcelona by two and Atlético by three. Three points that are effectively four: Madrid's head-to-head record is inferior against both rivals.
From Real Madrid 73, Atlético Madrid 70, Barcelona 66 to Atlético Madrid 73, Barcelona 72, Real Madrid 70. Last night, Barcelona beat Celta 3-0 at the Camp Nou. As that game finished, Real Madrid kicked off in Seville and Atlético kicked off at the Calderón against Granada. Atlético won 1-0; Real Madrid lost 2-1. With eight games left the title race is heating up – and it concludes with Barcelona versus Atlético. For the first time in 101 games, on Sunday night Cristiano Ronaldo scored and Madrid lost; last night he scored and Madrid lost for the second game in a row. If, that is, the first goal was his: his free-kick after 13 minutes crashed into the wall, hit an arm, diverted and flew into the other corner.
It had been a frantic start, the first foul arriving after just fourteen seconds when Asier Illaramendi crashed into Ivan Rakitic, much like a bull at a fiesta might crash into a bloke in a Batman costume. It was more open, less controlled than Madrid would have liked but the doubts seemed to have vanished; there was no apparent post-clásico depression.
The lead lasted less than five minutes. The arm that had given Madrid the first was Carlos Bacca's but he wasn't finished. Xabi Alonso lost possession and Sevilla broke, Bacca dashing through to nudge it past Diego López to make it 1-1. Yet still Madrid's shots racked up: by full time, there would be 26 of them. They would become increasingly desperate, hurried and ill thought-out, by then aware that Atlético had scored 500 kilometres away, but to start with, they were good chances. Modric produced two lovely assists, Karim Benzema put two chances wide, and Beto saved from Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, while Ronaldo also hit the post.
And then, in the seventy-first minute: Two! Bacca! The Colombian raced through again to finish off a swift break on the Madrid left, while Gareth Bale was over on the other touchline changing his boots, and suddenly the title was slipping away from Madrid. Now they were desperate and the more desperate they got, the worse they were; there was no subtly, no pause, no brains, no thought. The full time whistle went with Ronaldo moaning at Bale for taking a free-kick which, like so many shots before, flew over the bar and into Sevilla's delirious supporters.
AS's mad Madridista Tomás Roncero called it "Baleicide", Marca described it as "Hara Kari". Xabi Alonso admitted that they had made too many mistakes "starting with mine". One report described Diego López as "transparent", which isn't a word you often hear connected to Spanish football, and Marcelo apologised to the fans. Another headline played on the word batacazo, which roughly means crash landing, brought to earth with a bump, to declare this a "BACCAtazo".
This was Sevilla's sixth league win in a row: not even the Juande Ramos side, the most successful in the club's history, boasted a run that good. Their president Pepe Castro admits that after a complete overhaul in the summer – fourteen players in, eighteen players out, "barbaric" in Castro's words – they are ahead of schedule. European football was the target but perhaps not just yet. Now they're fifth, just six points off a Champions League place. This year Sevilla are in Europe only because, having finished ninth, Rayo and Málaga were not allowed to take up their European places on financial grounds.
And that's the other thing: last Thursday was Sevilla's dramatic Europa League victory over city rivals Betis. They had lost the first leg 2-0 at home and then won the second 2-0 away, going through to the quarter-final on penalties. That night, Bacca had been withdrawn on a stretcher after 105 minutes, exhausted. He had scored the second. Last night, he had scored them both. He walked off at least; again, though, he had given everything. Again, the ovation was huge.
Bacca did not even become a professional footballer until he was twenty-two and when he did it almost didn't last long: he admits that he went off the rails at first. But then he found God and now he says he almost never even goes out. He played in Colombia and Venezuela and joined Bruges in 2011. In his first season he got three in ten games, then 25 in 35 last season, becoming Belgium's top scorer. Sevilla signed him this summer for 8m euros but they also signed Kévin Gameiro from Paris Saint-Germain and most expected Gameiro to be first choice. Instead, powerful and quick, adept at arriving late to the area and swift to shoot, Bacca has become the league's best debutant.
Bacca says he still has to adapt to Spanish football, that he is still getting to know the opponents, and at the start of the season there were doubts about him. But he's already provided eight assists in the league and scored 14 goals in 23 league starts (and six sub appearances), 19 in 41 matches over all competitions. That's more league goals than Neymar or Bale, who cost 13 times what he did, and more than any newcomer in Spain. More than the men who came before him too. Only Júlio Baptista had a better debut season at the Sánchez Pizjuán than him; he has scored more in his first season there than Davor Suker (6), Diego Maradona (7), Iván Zamorano or Toni Polster (9), more than Fredi Kanouté (6), more even than Luís Fabiano, el Fabuloso (only 5), whose house he moved into, complete with Sevilla swimming pool in the garden.
Now some fans are calling him "Baccabuloso". And last night he scored twice against Real Madrid. Not that he did it alone. Here's a fun fact: José Antonio Reyes provided more assists per minute than anyone else in Premier League history. And last night, when he cared, he provided the first for Bacca. As for the second assist, it came from arguably the outstanding midfielder in Spain this season and the man Sevilla are desperate to tie to a new deal, having been prepared to let him go for just 3m euros only two years ago: captain Rakitic.
The Croatian is in double figures for goals and assists; his position changes depending on the needs of the team, with Unai Emery tacitly admitting that's because, put bluntly, he's better than anyone else; and his stats are stunning. Only three players outside Madrid or Barcelona have completed more passes, only five players in the whole league have taken more shots, and only Gareth Bale has given more assists. No one, though, has given an assist like he did last night. This was so good it was silly. "Football as art," runs the club's anthem. Well, quite.
As the ball was launched forward, Rakitic flicked it over Pepe. With his heel. On the volley. As he set off on a sprint, Bacca set off alongside him. Rakitic ran, Bacca ran, and as Raphaël Varane approached, the Croatian nudged a perfectly weighted ball into the area with the outside of his foot for the bus conductor to score. It was the perfect end to the perfect week. After the game, in the whitewashed tunnel alongside the dressing rooms, Rakitic was beaming. Now what, he was asked. "Now, for a beer," he said.
• Diego Simeone's face said it all. He puffed out his cheeks in relief. Diego Costa's 63rd minute header from a corner gave Atlético a 1-0 win over Granada. It was his 24th of the season. Surely no one has been as important as him in Spain this season.
• Víctor Valdés knew that his Barcelona career was coming to an end but would never have imagined it would end like this. This was a horribly cruel way for the best goalkeeper in Barcelona's history to bid farewell to the Camp Nou and it could yet have significant consequences for the rest of his career. This season Valdés has enjoyed his football more than ever before; partly because he's going, partly because his job has become more varied than ever before, partly because at last recognition was unanimous. He was chasing a unique record too: the chance to become the first goalkeeper to win four European Cups. It would have been a fitting way to depart but that's impossible now.
Valdés fell to the floor after an easy shot and was carried off on a stretcher. Tests showed that he had torn his cruciate knee ligament and he will be out for six months. He will miss the World Cup, where there was half a chance that he might even have been first choice – he started in Paris in qualification – meaning that David De Gea is likely to go instead, although Vicente del Bosque insisted it was not the time to talk about replacements, rather to support Valdés. As for Barcelona, that leaves them with José Pinto, in whom few (perhaps unfairly) have much faith. The club are allowed special dispensation to sign a replacement because it is a long term injury but Tata Martino ruled that out. Valdés's whole future is in doubt now. One agreement was in place (which should still be honoured, although that's not entirely clear) but he was continuing to look at other options and had not yet made a definitive decision on his destination.
Barcelona won 3-0 but few focused on that. "Nothing to celebrate," wrote Javier Mascherano.
• OK, so it was week 29, not week 30 (weeks 29, 30 and 31 are running into each other without a day's break between games), but on Monday night Almería beat Real Sociedad 4-3 in an insane match. The victory pulled them out of the relegation zone and was decided with a 91st minute goal by an eighteen year old kid called Hicham Khaloua, who was making his debut and had only been on the pitch for four minutes.
Results: Málaga 1-2 Espanyol, Elche 0-0 Athletic, Rayo 1-0 Osasuna, Barcelona 3-0 Celta, Atlético 1-0 Granada, Sevilla 2-1 Real Madrid, Real Sociedad 1-0 Valladolid, Getafe 0-1 Villarreal, Almería 2-2 Valencia, Levante 1-3 Betis.