First division, day 16
Leaders Real Sociedad kept up their unbeaten record this season, but were disappointed to be held to a 2-2 draw at home by Málaga. Although missing the injured De Pedro and Xabi Alonso and the suspended Kovacevic, the Basque side went in front through a Nihat free kick early on which went right through the defensive wall. Musampa levelled the scores with a shot which took a deflection off Jauregi, but Khokhlov restored the lead midway through the first half with the silliest goal of the night, charging down a clearance from Contreras from close range. Darío Silva made it all square again though after the break, and despite playing with ten men after Romero was sent off for a second bookable offence, the visitors held on for a valuable point.
Real Madrid closed the gap with Real Sociedad to three points after their fifth win in a row, a convincing 4-1 victory over last year's champions Valencia. A heavy rainstorm left the pitch in difficult conditions, but after dominating the opening minutes Del Bosque's side took the lead, Ronaldo running on to Zidane's through ball to round Palop and score. Ayala headed an equaliser ten minutes in to the second half, but the visitors were left with ten men after Aimar picked up a second booking, and a few minutes later Zidane put Madrid back in front. Benítez threw on extra forwards, but the ploy backfired when substitutes Guti and Portillo scored two more in the closing minutes, the first from a Roberto Carlos pass and the second after a dazzling run by Zidane. Valencia drop to fourth, now five points behind their opponents.
After victories for the teams below them earlier in the weekend, Barcelona started their game against bottom side Recreativo Huelva in thirteenth place. In the end though they ran out 3-0 winners, and with many clubs bunched together in mid-table they climbed their way back up to eighth place. Rochemback took advantage of a rare start to open the scoring with a long shot in the opening minutes, and his side were two up by the interval when Kluivert's strike was deflected by Loren into his own net. The Catalans should have made it three when Kluivert was brought down by new signing Zelaya, the referee awarding a penalty and sending off the Paraguayan defender for a second yellow card, but Xavi drove his penalty kick against the post. Cocu finally wrapped things up though ten minutes from the end.
Sevilla bounced back from their midweek defeat in Madrid to beat Mallorca 3-0. The game was played in Cádiz due to the four match closure of the Sánchez Pijjuan stadium, and took place on Sunday lunchtime in order to give players and supporters time to get home for the "Reyes" public holiday the following day. The "three kings" festival is the traditional time for giving presents in Spain, and with perfect timing it was Sevilla's Reyes who gave his fans their first gift, heading home a cross from Fredi in the twelfth minute to open the scoring. Toedtli got a second on the half hour mark, also with a header from Gallardo's pass, and the Argentine striker got on the end of Redondo's cross to score again five minutes from full time to end Mallorca's hopes of climbing back into the top six.
It was a record high scoring weekend, with 39 goals in all, and Villarreal and Atlético Madrid recording the second seven-goal thriller of the weekend. Benito Floro's side scored twice in two minutes around the half hour mark, the first a Unai free kick and the seconds a Palermo header, and although the visitors equalised with goals from Fernando Torres and Santi, Víctor scored again on the stroke of half time to re-establish the lead. Palermo got his second of the night and his fifth in six games late in the second half, but an injury time header from Fernando Torres made it 4-3 and set up a nailbiting last couple of minutes.
Javier Clemente's Espanyol are in deep trouble after they lost 2-1 at Alavés. Milosevic gave them hope in the first half, turning in Tamudo's cross to give them the lead, but Jordi Cruyff volleyed a spectacular equaliser before the break from a Llorens pass. Then later in the second half Soldevilla couldn't get out of the way as Rubén Navarro played the ball across goal, turning it past Sergio Sánchez into his own net to give Mané's side the three points. With all the teams above them winning, Espanyol stay next to bottom with a five point gap between them and eighteenth placed Rayo Vallecano.(05.01.03)
Deportivo La Coruña moved up to third place, temporarily at least, after a 3-0 victory over their Gallician neighbours Celta. The match was fairly even up until two minutes before half time when Diego Tristán made himself a goal out of nothing, leaving Berizzo for dead before drilling his shot past Cavallero from the edge of the area. Four minutes after the restart Sergio made it two, the keeper only managing to turn his shot into his own net after the Catalan midfielder connected with a Víctor corner on the far post, and the game was virtually over. Gustavo López did hit the post for the visitors later in the half, but substitute Luque finished things off with a last minute strike to take his side above their rivals in the table.
Betis drop a place to sixth after losing 3-0 at Valladolid. Both sides were depleted by suspensions and injuries, and the first half finished goal-less despite headers against the woodwork by Fernando Sales for the home side and Joao Tomas for the visitors. However Sales opened the scoring shortly after the break, and added a second goal a quarter of an hour later after Pachón and Oscar González combined to set him up. Oscar made it three ten minutes from the end following a precise through ball from Sousa, who had just come on the pitch.
A thrilling match at the Sardinero stadium, where Athletic Bilbao came from two goals down to defeat Racing Santander 3-4. Munitis gave the home side the lead from a free kick and Javi Guerrero made it two from the penalty spot after Javi Guerrero fouled Regueiro in the area. The visitors pulled one back when Moratón turned an Orbaiz corner past his own keeper, but Regueiro restored the two goal cushion before the break with a delightful lob over Aranzubia. However Urzaiz closed the gap with another penalty after Moratón pushed over Tiko, and Etxeberría scored twice in the last half hour to take the Basque side up to ninth pending Sunday's games.
Rayo Vallecano climbed out of the relegation zone with an important 0-1 win at Osasuna. The home side were looking for their fourth win in a row at the Sadar stadium, but despite having the better of the play they found themselves behind midway through the first half when Julio Alvarez beat Sanzol with a free kick. Rayo keeper Etxeberría was forced to make a couple of good saves from Alfredo and Rivero, but Rayo defended well and came away with a much needed three points. (04.01.03)