First division, day 22
Leaders Real Sociedad missed out on the chance to open up a big gap at the top after they were beaten 3-2 by Betis. It was a thrilling match, with the lead changing hands three times and the winning goal coming from a dubious penalty in the fifth minute of injury time. Fernando gave the home side the lead in the first half, heading home a lofted pass from Varela, and there was no further score until twenty minutes from the end. But then Nihat struck twice in five minutes, first of all curling a free kick over the defensive wall and in to the net, and then connecting with a first time shot as Kovacevic ran the ball across from the right. Betis equalised though with a freak goal from Filipescu, and in the last minute Jauregi pulled down substitute Dani in the area and Fernando stroked home the winner from the penalty spot to keep his side in sixth place.
Earlier in the evening Real Madrid had also lost only their second league game of the season at what is becoming a bogey ground, Osasuna's El Sadar stadium. New signing Manfredini scored the only goal late in the first half on his home debut, cutting in from the left wing to drive the ball low into the net across Casillas. Madrid have come back from behind several times this season, but this time there was no second half reaction, with some of the players looking tired after their long journeys to play for their countries midweek. The home side hit the woodwork twice in the second half through Aloisi and Muñoz, and the visitors were left with ten men when Figo was sent off for a hard tackle on Puñal. Even so they could have saved a point when a Morientes effort was headed off the line by Gancedo, the referee waving away Madrid's appeals that the ball had crossed the line.
Celta put in a merciless display against the league's bottom club Recreativo, beating them 4-1 to close up on the leaders. Edu led the attack once more, and he opened the scoring five minutes before the break from a set piece free kick, heading Luccin's cross past the hapless Luque. The young Brazilian added a second after the break, also from a header, and then set up substitute Jesuli for him to strike an impressive shot into the far top corner of the net a few minutes later. Jesuli got his own second goal a few minutes later after Mostovoi put him through, and although Sylvinho put through his own net after a misunderstanding with Cavallero in the last minute the game was already over. The referee reported a post match incident in the players' tunnel between Catanha and Pernía which left the Recre full back in hospital.
A turbulent week at Atlético Madrid, where club president Jesús Gil, his son Miguel Angel and vice-president Enrique Cerezo were all given prison sentences for embezzlement dating back to when the club was converted into a limited company. All three will appeal to the high court, and in the meantime Gil took his seat as normal in the directors' box. The players forgot about that though and went on to beat Mallorca 2-1 to hold on to seventh place and keep tabs on the European spots. Movilla started things off with a breathtaking volley after Leo Franco punched out a corner a quarter of an hour in to the game, but Novo levelled the scores with an equally impressive strike five minutes later. Mallorca were left with ten men though after Lozano put in a high tackle on Fernando Torres, and Luis García scored the winner after the break when Javi Moreno set him up. This was Mallorca's fifth league defeat in a row.
Athletic Bilbao are in eighth spot after beating Sevilla 2-0. It was a bad tempered match, with Sevilla ending the game with nine men and referee Turienzo Alvarez also sending off two of the Sevilla technical staff. Etxeberría put the Basque side ahead in the second half with a great goal, controlling a long ball out of defence and turning his defender before beating Notario. A couple of minutes later Fredi was sent off for a foul on Javi González, and ten minutes from the end David followed him for another foul on the same player. Ezquerro got the second goal from the penalty spot in the last minute after Redondo tripped substitute Arriaga in the area.
Alavés ended Villarreal's recent good run with a 1-0 victory in a cold Mendizorroza stadium. Benito Floro's team had the best record of anybody in the new year, but they were unable to break down Mané's defensive wall, with a Palermo shot against the post the nearest they came to scoring. Tomic scored the only goal of the game in the second half to take his side up level with their opponents in tenth place. Alavés international defender Téllez had to watch the game from the stands as he has been suspended from playing until he loses weight.
Dmitri Piterman's Racing Santander stay down in seventeenth place despite recording their second 2-0 win in a row, this time against Rayo Vallecano. Javi Guerrero gave them the lead with a quarter of an hour gone from a Munitis pass, and Benayoun got the second later in the half after Etxeberría failed to hold on to Javi Guerrero's header. Rayo's Quevedo was sent off for a second bookable offence in the second half. Racing do however open up a four point gap over Rayo and Espanyol, and only three points separate them from eighth placed Athletic Bilbao. (16.02.03)
Valencia put the pressure on the top two with a 2-0 win over Málaga, and they are now level with Real Madrid on points pending Sunday's games. With the Champions League and the UEFA cup competitions returning next week, the game was brought forward to Saturday, and managers Rafa Benítez and Joaquín Peiró rested several of their key players in preparation for their midweek matches. Even so there were several chances in the first half, with Vicente going close twice and Contreras saving well from Mista, and Dely Valdés heading over for the visitors. Eight minutes in to the second half Valencia took the lead, Pellegrino scoring his first of the season after the ball fell to him when the defence failed to clear Rufete's centre, and Juan Sánchez added a second later on from Vicente's cross. Good news too for Benítez on the injury front, with Angulo and Kily González both coming on in the second half after long lay offs.
Deportivo La Coruña consolidated their fourth position with a 0-1 win at an icy Valladolid, and they stay three points behind Valencia. Irureta too rested a couple of his key men before his side's Champions League visit to Basel, although Diego Tristán couldn't play anyway as he was suspended. The cold conditions froze the ideas in the first half, and neither side created too many problems for the opposing keepers. A moment of brilliance though from Roy Makaay in the second half won the game for the Gallicians, the Dutch striker rising in the area to side foot a spectacular shot past Bizzarri from Romero's cross for his sixteenth league goal of the season. Luque rattled the crossbar a few minutes later from a short Sergio free kick and brought the best save of the night from Bizzarri soon afterwards, but they had done enough and keep up the momentum for the top spots.
Espanyol and Barcelona met in one of the most important derby games in recent years, with the visitors running out 0-2 winners to avoid the humiliation of having their neighbours send them down in to the relegation spots for the first time in their history. Enric Reyna took over the president's chair at Barça from Joan Gaspart during the week, and saw Xavi recover from a dislocated shoulder early in the game to inspire his side to victory. The young midfielder set up Cocu with a free kick for him to head the opening goal five minutes from half time, and then took a pass from Saviola to score the second goal himself two minutes later. A stiff half time talk from Javier Clemente and the introduction of Tamudo put Espanyol back in the fight, but some good keeping by Bonano and bad marksmanship by the local forwards meant that the scoreline didn't move on. (15.02.03)