First division - day 24
Valencia became the seventh team to top the first division this season after coming from behind to beat Alavés 1-2. Temperatures in Vitoria were close to freezing, with bad weather throughout the game. However things soon warmed up when Astudillo put the home side in front in the first minute with a header, and De los Santos levelled the scores a minute later with a low shot. A mix up though between Kike and Llorens let in Carew to lob the ball into the empty net midway through the first half, the Norwegian striker having come in to the side as Benítez rested his tired players. Mané brought on two extra forwards in the second half, and the home side were awarded a penalty when Djukic brought down Vucko three minutes from the end. However Cañizares guessed right, and dived to his left to stop the shot. Valencia go two points clear at the top, and although Alavés are still only three points behind them, they drop to sixth.
Real Madrid's bad away form continues and they lost 2-1 at Valladolid, their first defeat in Zorrilla for ten years. Del Bosque lined up once again with his first choice side except for the injured Hierro and Zidane, with Makelele returning from a one match ban. After a score-less first half they fell behind to a goal from one of their own on-loan players, Fernando beating Casillas after the keeper blocked a shot from Fernando Sales. Morientes levelled the scores for the visitors with a looping header, and went close to giving them the lead a few minutes later with a shot which Ricardo saved. However with the game coming to an end Jesús headed a corner from Sales down into the bottom corner of the net for the winner. Real Madrid drop to third having only picked up two points in their last four games, with Valladolid up now in ninth place, only four points below the top six.
Barcelona made hard work of beating relegation candidates Real Sociedad, but in the end they ran out 2-0 winners thanks to second half goals from Rivaldo and substitute Saviola. Rexach picked a side virtually unchanged from the team which thrashed Tenerife at the weekend, but they were unable to break down Real's defence in the first half. The introduction of Saviola just after the break gave Barça more presence up front, and after Xabi Alonso cleared off the line from the young Argentine, Rivaldo combined with Kluivert to open the scoring. Saviola got the second himself when Luiz Alberto let him through to give the Catalans their second win in a row and take them up to fifth, three points behind Valencia. Real Sociedad drop to last place once again.
Rafa Alkorta returned in style to the Athletic Bilbao side, scoring an injury time winner to help his team beat Málaga 3-2. The international defender has been out with an injury since July, and came in to a changed side as Heynckes rested his tired players. On the opposite bench Peiró was missing four players through suspension, and left Dely Valdés on the bench to give Canabal and Edgar a rare start. Alkiza put the home side in front in the fifth minute with a long shot, but Canabal equalised later in the half from close range. Their joy only lasted four minutes before Ezquerro headed the Basques back in front, and although Dely Valdés came on to score in the second half, Alkorta hit the winner with a shot from outside of the area. Bilbao are eighth, but are only two points behind second placed Celta.
Betis kept themselves in the running for a European spot with a 0-0 draw at Las Palmas in the last game of the day. A pre-match injury to Amato together with long term injuries to Casas and Joao Tomás meant that Juande Ramos had no first team strikers available, and B team youngster Dani started the match up front. Las Palmas were missing three suspended players, and they too had to cobble together a makeshift forward line, with Sequeiros getting an opportunity. Although it was a lively match, the lack of top quality players up front resulted in a dearth of goals, with the two defences getting the better of their counterparts. Betis ended the day in seventh place, well placed for a European spot. Las Palmas drop a place to thirteenth.
Villarreal recorded a much needed 2-1 victory against Mallorca to take them five places up the table to eleventh and to leave their opponents down on the edge of the relegation zone. Only one point separated the two sides at the start of the match, and an under-pressure Víctor Muñoz brought back Pizzi up front. It was Jorge López though who gave his side the lead in the first half from close range, and the Argentine striker hit the post around half time with another effort. Mallorca's on-form pairing combined for Luque to set up Losada for a second half equaliser, but Víctor took advantage of a defensive mix up to hit the winner three minutes later.
Espanyol came from two goals down against Rayo Vallecano to snatch a 2-2 draw in injury time. Rayo took the lead with the best goal of the day from Michel, who controlled the ball perfectly before sliding it past Mora. Azkoitia came on for the injured Pablo Sanz before the break and he made it two shortly after the restart with a shot across the keeper. Paco Flores had been playing with five at the back, but he brought on new signing Pacheco at half time and the new boy immediately made his mark, pulling a goal back only a minute after Azkoitia's strike. Then in injury time Espanyol were awarded a free kick on the edge of the area, and Oscar drove a shot round the wall and into the net to leave Rayo still down in the relegation zone.
Sevilla felt hard done by to walk away from their match with only a point after drawing 0-0 against Osasuna. With young striker Reyes in hospital after a freak accident in training, Olivera came in to the starting line up alongside Moisés. It was not his day however as the Uruguay international hit the woodwork three times in the second half, and the match ended without goals. Both goalkeepers put in good performances, with the visitors' Unzué applauded on to the pitch at his old club and Olsen standing in for the injured Notario for the first time this season. Sevilla's Javi Navarro was sent off for a second bookable offence near the end, and Osasuna's Aloisi had to have five stitches put in a cut. Sevilla stay tenth, with Osasuna four places below them after their second goal-less draw in a row.
Tenerife bounced back with an impressive performance after their defeat last week, but left their opponents Zaragoza off the hook with a 1-1 draw. Rumours had it that Pepe Mel would be fired if his team lost again, but the visitors started strongly, with both Marioni and Fuertes missing good opportunities. Shortly before half time Iván Ania gave the Canary Islanders the lead heading home Marioni's cross from close range, and Láinez made two good saves after the break to keep the home side in the game. Costa brought on Galletti and Drulic on the hour mark, the Yugoslav striker making his debut after a season long injury, and Galletti struck the equaliser a few minutes after coming on. Tenerife move off the bottom spot above Real Sociedad, but they missed a good opportunity to drag their opponents down into the relegation battle. (06.02.02)
The crazy season continues, with Deportivo La Coruña beating neighbours Celta 0-2 against all the odds. Celta were strong favourites coming in to the match after a ten game undefeated run, whereas Deportivo had only picked up two points in their last eight away games. Víctor Fernández though was missing his midfield general Mostovoi after the appeals committee refused to cancel his fifth yellow card, and his absence was noted in a first half in which the visitors took control. Both goals came from Diego Tristán, the first under controversial circumstances before the break when the Celta players hesitated as the linesman raised his flag for offside. The striker lifted the ball into the net more as a formality than anything, but referee Medina Cantalejo ruled that he had been played on by Celta's Luccin and allowed the goal to stand. Tristán added a second twenty minutes in to the second half rounding Cavallero to score after Valerón chipped the ball through, and three minutes from the end Celta's Vagner got himself sent off for kicking out at Tristán as he wasted time by the corner flag. The victory though takes Deportivo level with Celta and Real Madrid at the top of the table pending Wednesday's games, and although Celta stay top on goal average for now, any one of three teams could overtake them within the next 24 hours. (05.02.02)