First division, day 20
If there was one place that Real Sociedad did not want to lose their unbeaten record, it was in the San Mamés stadium. However that is exactly what happened as their local rivals Athletic Bilbao ran out 3-0 winners thanks to a great performance from a man who played for the San Sebastian side earlier in his career, Joseba Etxeberría. The Spanish international winger scored a goal in each half and set up Ezquerro for a late third to move his side away from the danger zone. The game was hard fought in rainy conditions, and after having two or three penalty appeals turned down Real ended with ten men after Nihat was shown a straight red card near the end.
Real Sociedad stay four points clear at the top though after second placed Real Madrid were held to a 2-2 draw by Espanyol. Del Bosque's side had to come back from two goals down to do so though after Roger scored for the Catalans five minutes before half time and then set up Tamudo for a second goal before the break. Madrid's class showed through though, and a Roberto Carlos thunderbolt and a spectacular Figo free kick made it all square in the second half. Espanyol finished with ten men after Alex was sent off, but the point at least takes them out of the relegation zone.
Valencia took advantage of the slips by the teams above them to close up on the top spots. They are now a point behind Madrid after recording their second 1-0 home win in a row, this time against Mallorca. The visitors were clearly tired after their midweek cup victory over Real Madrid, but even so it was not until twelve minutes from the end that Valencia got their goal, Mista collecting Vicente's through ball to score. Curiously his manager Rafa Benítez was booed by the crowd two minutes earlier when he took off local hero Aimar to put on the young striker.
Deportivo got their revenge on Betis, who humiliated them in the opening match of the season at the Riazor stadium. This time it was the Gallicians' turn to win away, and their 0-2 victory took them back up above their opponents into the fourth Champions League spot. Both goals came in the second half from similar moves, Diego Tristán beating Prats with a glancing header from Sergio's cross, and then Makaay heading home a long free kick from the midfielder twelve minutes later.
Celta lost for the fourth time in five matches, but still hold on to sixth spot in the table after the defeat of Mallorca. They were beaten though 0-1 by a Sevilla side who bounced back after their elimination from the cup midweek, and who are proving to have one the strongest defences in the league. Celta could find no way through their tightly knit back four, and Casquero gave the visitors the three points with a goal in the second half.
Málaga moved back up to eighth spot after defeating Andalucian rivals Recreativo Huelva 4-0, their biggest win of the season. All four goals came in the second half, with Dely Valdés starting and finishing the scoring, and Romero and Gerardo scoring impressive goals in between. Recreativo are now five points adrift at the bottom, but at least have a cup semi-final to look forward to next week to take their minds off their troubles.
Valladolid moved level with Málaga and Mallorca after beating Dmitri Piterman's Racing Santander 2-1. The visitors took the lead early in the game with a rare Munitis headed goal, but Chema levelled the scores soon afterwards and Fernando Sales scored the winner near the end. It was the first time that Valladolid had come back from behind to win in three years, and leaves the Cantabrians down in the relegation zone after their fifth defeat in a row.
Villarreal moved a little closer to safety after a 0-1 win at Osasuna. Ground staff had to clear snow from the pitch before the game, and the referee only decided an hour before kick off to carry on. The home fans rather wished they hadn't though, as Josico headed the only goal of the game from Víctor's corner on the half hour mark. Floro's side move above their rivals, who are now level with Barcelona, only three points above the relegation spots.
Rayo Vallecano's new manager Gustavo Benítez started off with a valuable point in a 1-1 draw at Alavés, although he felt they could have even had a victory after Peragón gave them a first half lead with the silliest goal of the night. However the sending off of Azkoitia left them with ten men, and Karmona equalised later in the second half to save a point for the Vitorians. Rayo stay down in next to bottom place though. (02.02.03).
Atlético Madrid beat a depleted Barcelona side 3-0 to move back into contention for the European spots and leave their opponents reeling down in the bottom half of the table. The visitors were missing eight of their first team squad through injury and suspension, and with new manager Radomir Antic not taking over until next week after the firing of Van Gaal, Toño De la Cruz took charge of the side. Either team could have scored early on, but it was the home side who took the lead five minutes before the break when Fernando Torres left Frank De Boer for dead before beating Bonano. Both sides were left with ten men early in the second half when José Marí and Rochemback were sent off for fighting, and a few minutes later Emerson headed home a corner to put Atlético two ahead. Half time substitute Motta hit the bar at the other end, but with two minutes to go Luis García finished things off with a shot in off the bar from Movilla's pass, taking his side up to seventh pending Sunday's games. Barça could end the weekend a point or two above the relegation zone, and Antic will have his work cut out to get them back on track for a place in Europe next season. (01.02.03)