First division - day 23
Leaders Real Madrid lose their place at the top of the first division after losing 2-1 at Espanyol, their first defeat in ten league matches. Missing their two French internationals, Zidane through injury and Makelele with a one match ban, Flavio and Solari came in to Del Bosque's line up in his 100th game in charge. Raúl gave the visitors the best possible start, scoring the second fastest goal of the season with only 24 seconds on the clock after Flavio passed the ball in. However they were unable to build on their lead, and De Lucas levelled the scores later in the half with a shot from the edge of the area after good work from Palencia. Then with a quarter of an hour to go Tamudo latched on to a loose ball in the area to shoot into the roof of the net. The defeat leaves Madrid second, behind Celta on goal average, and with four teams only separated by one point the title race is wide open again. Espanyol rise up six places in the league to eleventh, taking the pressure off manager Paco Flores.
Valencia moved up to third place, within a point of the leaders after a 2-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao. Salva returned to Rafa Benítez's line up and he contributed to the opening goal, his deflected shot hitting the post and running on for Mista to finish off almost on the goal line. Bilbao came close to equalising just before half time though from consecutive corners, with Cañizares tipping over a header from Urzaiz and Etxeberria shooting over the bar with the goal at his mercy. Rufete extended Valencia's lead in the second half after Baraja lifted a pass over the defence, but Etxeberria pulled a goal back soon afterwards to set up an exciting finish. Bilbao end the day down in eighth place, finishing off a bad week in which they were eliminated from the cup at the semi-final stage last Thursday.
Betis moved back up to the top six after defeating Valladolid 2-0, the Andalucian side's first victory in six games. Both goals came from ex Mallorca and Glasgow Rangers striker Amato, who had been given a second opportunity despite missing several chances the week before against Real Madrid including a penalty. The Betis side had been hit by flu, with Luis Fernández and César struck down as well as manager Juande Ramos, and others could be hit midweek after playing the match in pouring rain. Valladolid have the best record in the new year, but they hardly troubled Prats and Amato headed his side in front in the eighteenth minute of the game. The introduction of Cuauhtèmoc improved things for the visitors, but Amato added a second ten minutes from the end to ensure victory.
Málaga kept up their five match unbeaten run in the new year, albeit with their fourth draw in five games, sharing the points after finishing 1-1 against Las Palmas. It was a hard game, and the downside for the home side was that they ended the game with nine men after Miguel Angel and Darío Silva were sent off by referee Carmona Méndez for second bookable offences near the end. With Litos and Romero also picking up their fifth and tenth yellow cards respectively, Peiró will be missing four key players for the game at Bilbao next Wednesday. The visitors opened the scoring early on when Fernando Sanz deflected a cross from Schurrer into his own net, and Málaga did not get back until fifteen minutes from the end when Musampa scored from close range following a corner.
Málaga and Las Palmas ended the weekend in the bottom half of the table on 28 points, level with Osasuna and Zaragoza who also drew in a match without goals at the El Sadar stadium in Pamplona. Neither side created many goal chances, with the only efforts worthy of note a header from Milosevic which rolled past Unzué's post and a shot by Aloisi at the other end, both in the second half. The game was marred by some crowd trouble, with Zaragoza fans able to make the relatively short trip to their rivals home town.(03.02.02)
Celta moved to the top of table pending Real Madrid's game on Sunday with a 0-1 victory at Mallorca, their tenth game in a row without defeat. The Gallicians were the better side in the first half despite losing Berizzo with a broken ankle early on, and Jesuli put them in front in the twenty-fifth minute with an individualist goal. Mallorca came back in the second half but could not break through the defensive wall, and the visitors went on to record their first ever win in the San Moix stadium. They are level on points with Madrid, and have a chance to open up a gap with their immediate rivals when they play neighbours Deportivo next Tuesday. Mallorca slip up after two wins in a row, but they are still four points above the drop zone.
Deportivo La Coruña themselves slipped up at home by the same result, losing 0-1 to Alavés. Irureta put out an attacking side, with Makaay, Tristán and Djalminha all in the starting line up, but they looked out of sorts and hardly made any impression on the visitors' defence. Three minutes before half time Astudillo gave the visitors the lead, following up after Molina could only block Rubén Navarro's shot, and Jordi Cruyff almost got another before the teams changed ends. Depor brought on Víctor at half time and Valerón soon afterwards, but Mané's men held on to recover ground after their last two defeats in a row and move above their rivals in to the top three, a point behind Celta and Real Madrid.
Barcelona bounced back after their two defeats in a row with a crushing 0-6 victory over Tenerife which included four goals from Patrick Kluivert. Rexach lined up with three central defenders and left out Saviola, and the team came out looking to silence their critics after their recent problems off the field. Puyol opened the scoring with an overhead kick with a quarter of an hour gone, and Kluivert got a second on the stroke of half time. That sank the Canary Island side, and the Dutch striker added three more goals in the first twenty-five minutes of the second half before being substituted. Charcos then put through his own net to round off a bad night for the hosts, and fans called for the resignation of club president Javier Pérez as they sank to the bottom of the table. Barcelona move up to fifth pending Sunday's matches.
The bottom two sides Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad both won by the same score, 2-1, to move ahead of Tenerife. Rayo beat Sevilla in a bad tempered match in which both sides ended with ten men, Fredi getting himself sent off only minutes after coming on as half time substitute for the visitors and Baljic following him soon afterwards after getting a second yellow card for diving. Sevilla had taken an early lead when Reyes beat Etxeberria in the third minute, but after Peragón missed a penalty, Quevedo headed Rayo level and Bolic put them in front following a short free kick ten minutes before half time. The visitors almost snatched a point though in injury time when Alfaro headed against the woodwork.
Real Sociedad's manager John Toshack needed a win to be sure of keeping his job, but Villarreal put up a good battle before finally falling 2-1 at the end. After a scoreless first half Aranburu put them ahead, but as has happened so often this season, they allowed their opponents to come back when Arruabarrena headed an equaliser. This time though they fought back to take the three points, De Paula coming on as a late substitute and almost immediately heading the winning goal following a corner. The result brings Villarreal back down close to the relegation spots. (02.02.02)