First division, day 15
Real Sociedad kept up the momentum at the top of the table, although they had to come from behind to eventually beat bottom club Recreativo Huelva 1-3. Raúl Molina opened the scoring for the home side five minutes before the break, but two minutes later Kovacevic set up Nihat for the equaliser. Ten minutes in to the second half it was Nihat again who beat Almunia on the counterattack, but Real were reduced to ten men soon afterwards when Kovacevic picked up a second yellow card. Recre threw on two extra forwards, but the leaders scored again in the last minute through substitute Llorente to open up a massive seven point gap on the rest.
Second placed Valencia were beaten 0-1 at home by Deportivo La Coruña and lose ground on the San Sebastian side. Makaay scored the only goal of the game midway through the first half with an opportunist strike, and the Gallicians held off the onslaught of the league champions for the rest of the match, thanks mainly to a brilliant performance by Juanmi. The keeper saved over a dozen attempts at goal, and stopped a second half penalty from Aimar after Donato had fouled Carew in the area. Valencia stay second, but their opponents are now only two points behind them in sixth place.
A last minute free kick from dead ball specialist Marcos Assunçao gave Betis a 2-1 win over Osasuna. Alfonso had given Víctor Fernández's side the lead in the first half, heading home another Assunçao free kick, but had to leave the field with an injury before the break. Then twelve minutes in to the second half Betis were left with ten men after Denilson was shown a red card for an off-the-ball incident with Izquierdo, and the visitors equalised five minutes from the end when Iván Rosado headed over Prats. But then Assunçao struck to keep his side in fifth place and end Osasuna's five match unbeaten run.
Javier Clemente started off his third term at Espanyol with a 1-0 win over Valladolid, who played for much of the second half with nine men. The ex Spanish international manager took over from Ramón Moya midweek after the side dropped to next to last place, and immediately made several changes to the line up. Milosevic scored the only goal in the eighth minute with a spectacular volley and hit the bar later on. Marcos and Peña were both sent off for the visitors, the former midway through the first half and the latter on the hour mark, but even so they could have snatched a point in the end. (22.12.02)
Third placed Real Madrid came back from two goals down for the second week in a row to beat Málaga 2-3 and put pressure on the top two. Musampa gave the Andalucians the lead early on and Dely Valdés scored again before the break after Darío Silva hit the bar. However Zidane pulled one back just after the restart with a solo effort, and Raúl levelled the scores later on after Ronaldo set him up. Then with twelve minutes to go substitute Juanito pushed over Figo in the penalty area, and the Portuguese winger scored from the spot to give his side their third win in a row in the league. Málaga have now gone six league games without a victory, and they drop down to the bottom half of the table.
Barcelona manager Louis Van Gaal saved his skin after his side won 0-4 at Mallorca. It was a strange game though in which the Balearic Island side were left with nine men only thirty minutes into the match, when Novo and then Eto'o were sent off for fouls on young Brazilian midfielder Motta. Kluivert gave the visitors the lead heading home Motta's cross midway through the first half, and Overmars added a lucky second on the stroke of half time when his shot took a deflection off Lussenhoff. Kluivert completed his hat-trick with two goals in the first seven minutes of the second half to give Mallorca their third defeat in a row, and take Barça back to the top half of the table.
Celta made sure of fourth place going in to the Christmas break with a 3-1 win over Villarreal. the Gallicians were two up after just seven minutes, with Catanha heading home a free kick with seconds on the clock and Edu intercepting Unai's pass to make it two. Palermo headed one back from Víctor's free kick on the stroke of half time, but Jesuli restored the two goal lead in the second half to leave their opponents down near the relegation zone.
History repeated itself at the Calderón stadium, where Racing Santander beat Atlético Madrid 1-2. The Cantabrians had only won twice before at the ground, and both times on the 21st December, once in 1986 and again in 1994. The eight year cycle came round again after Munitis gave the visitors the lead just before the interval, and although half time substitute Emerson headed an equaliser, Javi Guerrero took advantage of a defensive mistake to give his side their second win in a row.
Athletic Bilbao won their Basque derby against Alavés by 2-0 to move away from the danger zone. Urzaiz gave Heynckes side the lead after a quarter of an hour, heading an Etxeberría cross past Dutruel, and Etxeberría himself headed a second goal himself from a corner near the end. It was the first time in over thirty games that Bilbao had kept a clean sheet.
Sevilla moved out of the relegation zone after beating Rayo Vallecano 0-1, their second victory in a row. The Andalucians were left with ten men before the break after Fredi picked up a second booking, but Marcos Vales headed the only goal from a corner midway through the second half. Rayo replace Sevilla in third from bottom place. (21.12.02)