Barca, Atletico battle fatigue in heavy schedule
Despite league wins, coaches say tiredness was a factor with Champions League clash looming
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid bosses Gerardo Martino and Diego Simeone believed their sides struggled physically as they laboured to victories over Real Betis and Villarreal respectively.
Atletico remain a point clear of the Catalans with six games to go in La Liga, but it was their Champions League quarter-final clash that occupied the minds of both coaches as the sides meet on Wednesday at the Vicente Calderon for the second leg after a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou last Tuesday.
Martino admitted Barca hadn't matched their standards of late as two goals from Lionel Messi and a Jordi Figueras own goal were enough to see them past bottom of the table Betis 3-1.
"I expected that the game wouldn't have the same level of play as the other day against Atletico. Tuesday took a lot out of us. I saw a bit of the Atletico game and the same happened to them," he said.
"Today, as an exception, we value the result above everything. It wasn't due to concentration or underestimating the opponent, Betis played very well. At some stage, our work rate dropped a bit because we were lacking a bit physically.
"I hope that on Wednesday we will be better than today. I don't want to make excuses, but between last Tuesday and this Wednesday appears the Betis game and it is normal that this happens.
"Normally the result isn't so favourable and this time it is, so we value it a lot as it allows us to continue putting pressure on the leaders."
It was a similar story for Atletico as Raul Garcia's early header was enough to squeeze out a third straight 1-0 home league win.
"Today was a difficult game. We played better in the first half, but we didn't find space in between the lines like we wanted and scored through a set piece," said Simeone.
"In the second half, Villarreal were superior in terms of possession. They didn't have many chances at goal, but we also couldn't create anything on the counter-attack. It is a very important victory that we will value a lot.
"We were tired towards the end and that is normal. The strength and energy that we have had at other times we didn't have today, but the team played with their heads and when you play intelligently it can supplement that lack of energy.
"Now we need to think about the game in the Champions League. It is important for the club. It will be a great match. Hopefully, we can recover in these four days."
It was a much more comfortable evening for Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti as despite being without Cristiano Ronaldo his side cruised to a 4-0 win away to Real Sociedad to remain three points off the top.
Real were also in Champions League action last week as they beat Borussia Dortmund 3-0, but, in stark contrast to Atletico and Barca, they got stronger as the game went on as Gareth Bale, Pepe and Alvaro Morata scored in the final 25 minutes after Asier Illarramendi had opened the scoring just before half-time.
"It is not easy to recover after a game like Wednesday and in that aspect the intensity of the players in the second half was very good," said Ancelotti.
"We have the desire to fight until the last game. Despite the fact we are behind in the table, we will fight until the end."
Meanwhile, Barcelona's members have backed plans to remodel the club's iconic Nou Camp stadium to increase the capacity of Europe's biggest soccer venue from 98,000 to 105,000 and help boost sponsorship and match-day revenue.