By ADAM TROXTELL
For the fifth time in seven years, the Spanish Primera Division title will reside in Catalonia.
Barcelona cemented the top spot in La Liga this season with a 1-0 win against defending champions Atletico Madrid. Lionel Messi breathed air into an otherwise tense afternoon with a 65th minute strike.
With eyes on both the Vicente Calderon in Madrid and the Estadio Cornella-El Prat back in Barcelona where second place Real Madrid was playing Espanyol, it was Los Blancos who looked most likely to seal a victory that would take the title race to the final day.
Messi broke the deadlock when he exchanged a one-two with Pedro at the top of the box, collected the return pass and fired a low shot inside the far post. It was deserved, though Claudio Bravo was required to make a few saves in the Barca net to keep his team out in front.
While Atletico knew entering the game that its title challenge was over, the club still needs to watch its back to avoid dropping down into the fourth and final UEFA Champions League spot that comes with a potentially tricky qualifying round.
Elsewhere, Manchester United remains in fourth place in the English Premier League after a 1-1 draw with Arsenal. AC Milan faces finishing in the bottom half of Serie A after a loss to Sassuolo.
Here is more from the action across Europe’s top leagues on Sunday:
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Four subs in two minutes seemed to completely change the mood in Manchester United’s final home game this season against Arsenal.
Down 1-0, Arsenal brought on Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, while the Red Devils had to bring off goalkeeper David De Gea due to injury and also brought on Tyler Blackett. The young defender wound up scoring an own goal to finish the match 1-1.
Walcott and Wilshere added life to an Arsenal team that at times adopted a more conservative approach, inviting pressure only to respond with a counter-attack. Ander Herrera took advantage in the 30th minute, making a run from midfield to the back post where Ashley Young found him with a cross from the left.
The finish handed Man United a 1-o lead at halftime, and it was maintained through to the 74th minute when De Gea appeared to suffer an injury and asked to be brought off. The Red Devils crowd clapped him to the locker room, possibly for the last time as rumors of a Real Madrid move continue to swirl.
Blackett came on for Marcos Rojo, but it won’t be an afternoon for him to remember. Aaron Ramsey sent Walcott down the wing, and his low shot was partially blocked by Blackett and past a wrong-footed Victory Valdes in goal.
The point leaves Man United two points behind Arsenal, and the Gunners can extend that gap with a win against Sunderland in the middle of the week.
Elsewhere in England, Manchester City fought back to beat Swansea 4-2. The Citizens were up 2-0 in the first half through goals by Yaya Toure and James Milner, but Gylfi Sigurdsson struck just before halftime to hand the Swans a lifeline.
Bafatembi Gomis then equalized int he 64th minute, but Toure’s second strike ten minutes later turned out to be the winner. Wilfried Bony then scored against his former club in stoppage time to seal the Man City win.
SPANISH PRIMERA DIVISION
It must have been a strange afternoon for Real Madrid and its fans.
Sitting in the very city of the team that stood between them an another La Liga title, they were also hopeful rivals Atletico might provide them with some help. Los Blancos did their job on the pitch, beating Espanyol 4-1.
A scoreless first half gave way to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 43rd goal of the season in the 59th minute. Espanyol had a brief say over things when Cristian Stuani equalized in the 73rd minute. By then, Barcelona was cruising toward the title.
Ronaldo combined with Marcelo for the defender to score six minutes later, before the Portuguese superstar scored his second in the 83rd minute. But the result back in Madrid means Los Blancos will only have the Club World Cup to add to the trophy cabinet this season.
Valencia lost some of its grip on the fourth and final Champions League spot in a 1-1 draw against Celta Vigo. Sevilla’s 2-1 win against Almeria means Los Che’s lead has been cut to one point.
Here is a look at the results from Spain:
Atletico Madrid 0, Barcelona 1
Cordoba 1, Rayo Vallecano 2
Deportivo La Coruna 2, Levante 0
Elche 2, Athletic Bilbao 3
Espanyol 1, Real Madrid 4
Getafe 1, Eibar 1
Real Sociedad 0, Granada 3
Sevilla 2, Almeria 1
Valencia 1, Celta Vigo 1
Villarreal 2, Malaga 1
ITALIAN SERIE A
AC Milan might end up in the bottom half of Serie A when the season ends in a few weeks.
That possibility became more realistic when Sassuolo beat Milan, 3-2 on Sunday. With European spots out of reach, Milan is looking for anything to make this season better.
Domenico Berardi’s brace for Sassuolo had the team up 2-0 with about 30 minutes gone. Giacomo Bonaventura pulled one back for Milan in the 33rd minute to try and keep the day from getting any worse.
Defender Alex then headed in Suso’s corner to bring Milan level in the 51st minute. Six minutes later, a second yellow card to Bonaventura made a comeback victory less likely.
Things went from bad to worse when Barardi completed his hat-trick to hand Sassuolo the win. Milan sits in 11th place with games against Torino and Atalanta to come.
Here are more results from Serie A on Sunday:
Sassuolo 3, Milan 2
Atalanta 1, Genoa 4
Cagliari 0, Palermo 1
Verona 2, Empoli 1
Torino 2, Chievo 0