First division, day 19
Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw in the rain at Athletic Bilbao and stay in second place, now five points behind leaders Real Sociedad. Ronaldo put the European champions ahead ten minutes in to the second half when the ball rolled to him after Aranzubia had blocked two shots from Raúl. However Athletic equalised a quarter of an hour later when Del Horno turned in a long cross from the left. Madrid almost got the win they were looking for in a frantic scramble near the end following a corner with Hierro and Pavón involved, the ball striking the post twice before the defence finally got it away, but in the end Del Bosque had to settle for a third draw in a row. Athletic find themselves down in sixteenth place, two points above the relegation zone.
All eyes though were on Barcelona manager Van Gaal, who is expected to be out of a job within the next 24 hours after his side lost 2-0 at Celta. The first half could have gone either way, with Jesuli hitting the post and Bonano saving a Gustavo López penalty at one end, and Xavi also hitting a post and Cavallero making an important double save from Saviola at the other. However Jesuli put Lotina's side ahead in the first minutes after the break, and Sylvinho hit a screamer past Bonano later in the half to give his side their first win in the new year and keep them in sixth spot. Barcelona end the first half of the season in twelfth position, one of the lowest in their history, and they are now only three points above the relegation zone.
A single goal from Pablo Aimar was enough to give Valencia a 1-0 victory over Sevilla. The Argentine midfielder controlled a pass from Baraja and beat Notario on the turn to ensure the three points and consolidate their third position. Notario and his well organised defence kept out the local strikers in the second half, but they could have scored themselves on the odd breakaway. The Andalucians ended the weekend though in fourteenth place, in a group of eight teams only separated by two points. Valencia's new signing Reveillère made his debut later in the game.
Deportivo La Coruña dropped out of the Champions League spots after losing 3-1 at Espanyol. All four goals came in the first half an hour of the match, with the visitors taking the lead in the second minute when Makaay turned in Luque's cross for his 21st goal of the season. Soldevilla headed an equaliser from Roger's free kick five minutes later, and goals from Roger and Morales soon afterwards put Clemente's side ahead. A great performance by returning keeper Toni kept the scores that way, and Espanyol move to within a whisker of getting out of the relegation positions with their tenth point in five games.
Betis take over from Deportivo in fourth place after defeating Villarreal 2-1, setting up an interesting match between them and the Gallicians next weekend. Both of their goals came from Denilson, the first a delightful chip over the keeper early in the first half, and the second a fierce shot from the left after the break which Reina could only fist into his own goal. The keeper made a spectacular save from a Joao Tomas header in between, but Aranda made the last few minutes interesting after he turned Guayre's cross past Prats near the end.
Málaga ended their run of nine games without a win when they beat Mallorca 1-0. The turning point of the game came on the half hour mark when the visitors' left back Poli was sent off for a hard tackle on Málaga captain Bravo, leaving his side with ten men. The winning goal didn't come until midway through the second half though, when Sandro set up Musampa for him to place his shot wide of Leo Franco. Defeats for the teams around them mean that Mallorca stay in seventh spot, with their opponents climbing back into the top half of the table.
Alavés moved level with Málaga and their own opponents Valladolid on 24 points after a 1-3 win in the Nuevo Zorrilla stadium. Rubén Navarro gave Mané's side the lead with a well struck free kick in the twentieth minute, but there were no more goals until eight minutes from the end when the Catalan born striker got his second of the night from a Llorens cross. Substitute Ciric pulled one back, but with the home side throwing everything forward, Iván Alonso scrambled a third goal to ensure the victory.
Racing Santander's controversial new president Dmitri Piterman took charge of the squad for the first time, but his team ended up losing 3-1 to Osasuna to drop to within a place of the relegation zone. Piterman was refused a licence to sit in the dugout alongside his right hand man Chuchi Cos, but managed to register himself as a press photographer to be able to pass instructions to his new manager. However they found themselves behind when Iván Rosado struck in the twelfth minute, and although Juanma levelled the scores, goals from Rivero on the stroke of half time and Alfredo after the break took their opponents above them in the table.
Recreativo Huelva recorded only their third win of the season, coming from behind to beat fellow strugglers Rayo Vallecano 2-1 and move to within four points of them in the table. Rayo's new manager Gustavo Benítez had not had time to take over, having only been appointed last Friday after the sacking of Fernando Vázquez, but he was in the stands to watch his future team take the lead in the second minute when De Quintana turned in a cross from Camuñas. Recre came back though with a goal from Xisco after the break, and with five minutes to go team captain Loren beat Segura to keep their survival hopes alive. (26.01.03)
Real Sociedad ensured themselves of the honorary title of winter champions after beating Atlético Madrid 1-2 in the only game played on Saturday evening. All three goals came in the second half, but there was excitement earlier on when both sides hit the post from free kicks, and Real keeper Westerveld saved his second penalty in a week, this time from Correa after the referee ruled that Fernando Torres had been fouled by Kvarme. The visitors opened the scoring in the first minute of the second period when Tayfun got ahead of a static defence to turn in De Pedro's low cross, but Luis García equalised three minutes later after Correa put him away down the left flank. Kovacevic headed the winner though later in the half from a López Rekarte cross to maintain his side's unbeaten record this season and take them six points ahead of second placed Real Madrid pending Sunday's games. (25.01.03)