By Joseph Wilson ,AP
BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona compounded its exit from the Champions League by losing 1-0 at Granada on Saturday, letting Real Madrid move ahead into second place in the Spanish league with a 4-0 win over Almeria.
Barcelona’s stumble ensured the same Atletico Madrid that ousted it from Europe’s top-tier competition would maintain the league lead with five more rounds to go, as it was level on points with Madrid but ahead on goal difference before it visited Getafe on Sunday.
Granada’s Yacine Brahimi scored what proved to be the winner in the 16th minute and goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis made saves to deny Lionel Messi and Neymar amid a plethora of scoring chances that Barcelona failed to finish.
Barcelona has four more days to regroup from back-to-back defeats before it plays Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final in Valencia.
“It’s a step back,” said Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta, whose late shot trickled by the post with Granada bunkered down in its area.
“It hurts more given how few games are left. Sometimes it’s difficult to explain it when you lose. We did everything but score. We controlled everything else, but just couldn’t finish our chances. Sometimes when the team is emitting strange vibes, this happens.”
With his centerbacks Gerard Pique, Marc Bartra and Carles Puyol all injured, Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino shifted Sergio Busquets into his back line and started Alex Song in midfield.
It didn’t take long for the shuffling to backfire, when Song lost the ball and Granada sprang a counterattack. Fran Rico quickly played Brahimi through for the forward to ride Martin Montoya’s mark before he shot beyond goalkeeper Jose Pinto.
“I don’t think the lineup changes were decisive in a match that Barcelona should have won,” Martino said. “Normally Barcelona wins this game by four or five goals. After two losses, the squad feels that something important is slipping away, but on Wednesday we must try and win the final (of the Copa).”
“I can’t feel good after these results, but we will keep fighting for the league. We can’t confuse sadness with giving up.”
Barcelona peppered Granada’s area with crosses and shots but went no closer in the first half than Neymar’s long-range attempt in the 30th that Karnezis pushed wide, while Messi tried in vain to dribble through the middle of the defense.
The visitors kept pressing after the restart and Karnezis was called on to stab Cesc Fabregas’ volley around his post in the 54th. He then stretched to palm Messi’s free kick before he was well positioned to block Sergio Busquets’ try.
Granada’s Youssef El Arabi almost grabbed a second goal two minutes from time but he couldn’t better Pinto one-on-one.
Madrid didn’t miss injured star Cristiano Ronaldo as it bounced back from its poor performance at Borussia Dortmund with a dominant victory.
Angel Di Maria, Gareth Bale, Isco Alarcon and Alvaro Morata scored at the Santiago Bernabeu to keep Almeria in the relegation zone.
Di Maria hit the crossbar to set the tone early and followed up in the 28th by curling in Madrid’s opener.
Madrid toyed with Almeria until Bale scored his 14th league goal of the season from Karim Benzema’s pass in the 53rd, with Isco hitting three minutes later. Morata went on to score five minutes from time.
“We knew that the league would have more twists,” Di Maria said. “We were behind (Barcelona) and then we were ahead, we fell behind again and now we are back in front. We know that we have to treat each remaining game as if it were the last.”
Also, Villarreal striker Jeremy Perbet headed in a free kick five minutes into stoppage time to snatch a 1-0 win over Levante.
The otherwise dull match appeared destined to end scoreless until a late foul let Manuel Trigueros find Perbet unmarked at the near post.
Villarreal’s win lifted it into sixth place, one point ahead of Real Sociedad after it allowed 10-man Celta Vigo to fight back twice for a 2-2 draw.