Artem Dovbyk struck a hat-trick inside seven minutes as minnows Girona powered back to the top of La Liga with a thumping 5-1 win over Sevilla on Sunday.
After Real Madrid scraped a controversial 3-2 win over bottom side Almeria and a treble by Ferran Torres helped Barca win 4-2 at Real Betis, Girona demonstrated their title credentials.
The Catalan club, in the top flight for only the fourth season in their history, are shock challengers for the Spanish title and lead second-place Madrid by a point, having played one extra game.
Madrid’s victory over winless Almeria, which took them temporarily top before Girona played, was steeped in drama and controversy.
Dani Carvajal rammed home the winner in the 99th minute to settle a wild and hugely entertaining clash at the Santiago Bernabeu where Madrid had trailed 2-0.
Almeria took a two-goal lead through Largie Ramazani’s 38th minute strike and a screamer from Edgar Gonzalez.
Madrid battled back to triumph as Jude Bellingham converted a penalty and Vinicius Junior used his upper arm to divert home an equaliser, before Carvajal’s last-gasp winner.
Madrid had three key VAR adjudications go in their favour, including Vinicius’ goal which Almeria considered handball, a goal of their own ruled out and a penalty given to Madrid.
“(We leave) with the feeling we’ve been robbed,” complained Almeria midfielder Gonzalo Melero.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti disagreed.
“I understand Almeria’s anger with the VAR decisions, but I think they were well judged,” Ancelotti told reporters.
Madrid won the Spanish Super Cup last Sunday by thrashing Barcelona in Saudi Arabia and then lost 4-2 against Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey in midweek.
“It was a tired team,” explained Ancelotti, who said the first-half display was one to forget.
Madrid came roaring back after that, with Bellingham at the heart of it, La Liga’s joint top scorer with Dovbyk firing home from the spot for his 14th goal of the campaign.
After Vinicius nudged in to level, Bellingham had a goal ruled out for offside and sent a superb overhead kick narrowly wide.
The England international helped create the winner by nodding the ball to the back post for Carvajal to smash home and spark jubilant celebrations after another epic Madrid comeback.
Barcelona, third, let a two-goal lead slip against Betis but recovered to stay in the title race.
Torres scored twice to put Barca two ahead but they surrendered their lead as former Real Madrid playmaker Isco struck a brace of his own.
Joao Felix finished deftly in the 90th minute and Torres netted again to secure victory for the Catalans, who trail neighbours Girona by eight points.
Torres, reaching a century of appearances for Barcelona since joining from Manchester City two years ago, was decisive and said he had worked hard for his moment.
“It’s the fruit of hard work, discipline, consistency, of believing in yourself,” Torres told Movistar.
Barcelona handed young defender Pau Cubarsi his first start and with Lamine Yamal also in the team, lined up with two 16-year-olds.
‘Everyone has seen it’
Barca coach Xavi Hernandez was pleased with their performances but also chose to express his concern at the refereeing in Madrid’s win.
“If we talk they will suspend us, but everybody has seen it,” said Xavi.
“I already said … there were things that didn’t fit right with me in this league.
“There are things that we can’t control and everyone has seen that.”
At Girona’s Montilivi stadium, struggling Sevilla, 17th, and just a point above the relegation zone, took a surprise lead through Isaac Romero.
However Dovbyk’s rapid treble between the 13th and 19th minutes saw Michel Sanchez’s sparkling side take full control.
Ukrainian compatriot Viktor Tsygankov got in on the action early in the second half and substitute Cristhian Stuani rounded off the rout.
“We’re not conscious of how hard it is to do this, because of the feelings that we have, you can see it in our happiness on the pitch,” said Girona winger Portu.
“Day to day here is spectacular, the ones who are playing the least (in the squad) are the ones who are supporting the team the most, you can see the happiness.”
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