Girona's team players celebrate after the Spanish La Liga soccer...

Girona's team players celebrate after the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Girona at the Olimpic Lluis Companys stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Credit: AP/Joan Monfort

MADRID — Girona made its strong case to be considered a genuine contender for the Spanish league title by beating Catalan rival Barcelona 4-2 on Sunday and overtaking Real Madrid at the top of the standings.

Ukraine forwards Artem Dovbyk and Viktor Tsygankov teamed up for Girona's opener, and Miguel Gutierrez, Valery Fernández and Cristhian Stuani scored a goal each to seal the away victory against the defending league champions. Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gundogan scored Barcelona's goals.

The statement win moved Girona two points ahead of Madrid, which drew 1-1 with Real Betis on Saturday. Barcelona dropped to fourth place, seven points behind its regional rival and five behind Madrid. Atletico Madrid regained third place with a 2-1 win over last-place Almeria to extend its winning streak at home in the league to 17 matches. Atletico has the same 34 points as Barcelona with a game in hand.

Barcelona had never lost in six matches against Girona in the league, with four wins and two draws.

“Girona deserves a lot of credit. It has a great team,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández said. “It was an even match, it could have gone either way. It also would have been a fair result if we had won it.”

Girona, partly owned by Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi ownership, never looked like the minnow club against Barcelona on Sunday, showing maturity and poise from the start at the Lluís Companys Olympic Stadium.

The team coached by Míchel Sánchez, sporting a white and blue uniform with similar colors to Man City, has been playing some of the best soccer in Spain and holding on to its position near the top from the start of the season.

Barcelona's Robert Lewandowski smiles during the Spanish La Liga soccer...

Barcelona's Robert Lewandowski smiles during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Girona at the Olimpic Lluis Companys stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Credit: AP/Joan Monfort

“It’s a special victory, it gives us the lead," Míchel said. “Very happy with the result because we faced a great Barça team.”

Girona had won 12 of its first 15 league matches, though it had failed in its first big test when it lost 3-0 to Real Madrid at home in September.

There was no problem against Barcelona, though.

The visitors opened the scoring in a breakaway in the 12th minute. Dovbyk found the net from close range after completing a low cross by his countryman Tsygankov. Barcelona equalized with a header by Lewandowski off a corner kick taken by Raphinha in the 19th, but Girona retook the lead in the 40th with a nice shot by Gutiérrez into the top corner from inside the area.

Barcelona's Raphinha reacts during the Spanish La Liga soccer match...

Barcelona's Raphinha reacts during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Girona at the Olimpic Lluis Companys stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Credit: AP/Joan Monfort

Fernández scored Girona's third in the 80th before Barcelona pulled closer with Gundogan's goal two minutes into stoppage time. Stuani restored Girona's two-goal advantage five minutes into injury time.

FAN DEATH

The game between Granada and Athletic Bilbao was suspended after a fan suffered a cardiac arrest and died in the stands.

Granada said the fan had been a season ticket holder for 16 years. No further details were given about the fan’s identity.

The match will restart on Monday night from the 17th minute with Athletic leading 1-0. Iñaki Williams had put the visitors ahead in the sixth minute.

17 IN A ROW

Atletico won its 17th consecutive match at home to extend its biggest winning run in the competition as a host.

Álvaro Morata and Ángel Correa scored a goal each in the first half before Almeria pulled one back through Léo Baptistão after halftime.

Atletico will have a game in hand after the weekend's round. Diego Simeone's team was coming off a 1-0 loss at Barcelona in the previous league round. It had won 11 of its last 13 matches in all competitions before that defeat in Barcelona.

“We know there's still a long way to go. We lost the other day but it wasn't the end of it," Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann said. “We have to keep playing like this.”

Atletico's last setback at home in the league was a 1-1 draw with Getafe in February.

Morata opened the scoring in the 17th minute after dribbling past a defender and then the goalkeeper inside the area. Correa added to the lead five minutes later from close range after a low cross by Marcos Llorente.

The assist for Morata's goal came from Griezmann, who had a goal disallowed for offside in the fifth minute. The France forward remains three goals shy of the 173 scored by Luis Aragonés, the club's all-time leading scorer.

Baptistão scored from close range for Almeria in the 62nd.

It was the 12th league loss for the club from southern Madrid, which remains the only team without a win this season. It stayed on four points from four draws. The Saudi-owned club this week was eliminated by fourth-division team Barbastro in the second round of the Copa del Rey.

Also Sunday, relegation-threatened Cadiz saw its winless streak in all competitions reach 14 matches after a 1-1 draw with Osasuna at home.

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