LA CORUNA, April 26 (Primera Liga) - Barcelona's already faint title hopes were all but ended on Saturday after they crashed to a deserved defeat at in-form Deportivo La Coruna.
Juan Rodriguez and Pablo Amo struck Depor`s goals in the second half as the Galician side made it 10 wins in their last 14 matches, leaving Real Madrid a step closer to being crowned champions this weekend.
Madrid now need second-placed Villarreal to slip up at Real Betis to be able to clinch the title with a home win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday night.
Third-placed Barca always had a mountain to climb to overhaul Madrid after starting the weekend 11 points adrift of their arch-rivals with only five games remaining.
And coach Frank Rijkaard, whose side face Manchester United in their Champions League semi-final second leg on Tuesday, was without a number of senior stars for the testing trip to La Coruna.
Samuel Eto`o, Lionel Messi and Xavi were all rested, Andres Iniesta and Gabriel Milito were suspended, Ronaldinho was still missing through injury, while Deco, Victor Valdes and Eric Abidal started the match on the bench.
The makeshift Barca side started well enough, and they created the first decent chance of the game after 13 minutes when a fine Bojan Krkic chip put Eidur Gudjohnsen in behind the Depor defence.
However, after showing good initial control, Gudjohnsen was unable to fire off a decent shot and the chance was lost.
That positive start proved to be a false dawn for Barca though, as they soon found themselves under intense pressure from a lively and energetic Depor side.
Stand-in Barca goalkeeper Jose Pinto was called on to palm away a Christian Wilhelmsson shot, before Depor had two chances in quick succession in the 26th minute after Pinto had failed to collect a cross.
The first opportunity saw Xisco stab Fabricio Coloccini`s cross-shot against the crossbar, before Alberto Lopo fired the loose ball back into the danger area and the unmarked Rodriguez fluffed his chance with the goal at his mercy.
Barca responded with a long shot from Bojan that Dudu Aouate turned behind, before Angel Lafita went close again for Depor after collecting a quick throw-in, lifting the ball over Gudjohnsen before firing a rising shot just over.
Depor were unfortunate not to have been ahead by the break, but they needed just nine minutes of the second half to take the lead.
Amo had already gone close with a header from which he really should have scored when Lafita did well on the right to drive in a low cross that the unmarked Rodriguez diverted past Pinto from close range.
Barca were struggling to create much going forward, and their frustrations were summed up with a speculative long-range effort from substitute Deco that went well wide.
While a goal was looking highly unlikely for the visitors, Depor continued to threaten and it was no real surprise when they netted a second goal to kill the game off with 14 minutes to go.
Wilhelmsson sent in a deep free-kick from the left and some more slack marking by Barca allowed Amo a free header at the far post, and he gave Pinto no chance - much to the delight of the fans in the Riazor and, no doubt, those of Real Madrid.
In the late game Murcia and Sevlla drew 0-0.