First division, day 25
Three goals in the first half were enough to give Real Sociedad a comfortable victory over local rivals Alavés. Denoueix's side were virtually back to full strength for this game, and Nihat celebrated his return after a one match ban setting up Kovacevic for a first goal and scoring the second from De Pedro's curling cross. Karpin made it three just before half time, getting ahead of Llorens to meet another De Pedro cross, and the game was virtually finished. Real slowed the pace down after the break to conserve their lead, but the visitors did get one back when referee Ramírez Domínguez awarded a penalty after a group of players bustled in for a corner, substitute Rubén Navarro converting the kick for the final 3-1 scoreline. Real move back to second place, still only a point behind leaders Real Madrid, and Alavés drop to the edge of the relegation zone having now let in 14 goals in their last three games.
Fifth placed Celta lost 1-0 at Rayo Vallecano, and lose ground on the top four who are now eight points clear. The only goal of the game came three minutes from the end when Michel won the ball down the left wing and crossed in for De Quintana to rise above the defence and head the ball wide of Cavallero. Either side could have scored before that, with half time substitute Luis Cembranos forcing the Celta keeper to tip his long free kick on to the post, and Catanha, Luccin and Edu all failing to beat Segura in a prolonged goalmouth scramble. Rayo first win in four games takes them to within a point of Espanyol.
Mallorca beat Betis 2-1 to record their first league win in eight games. Manzano's side appeared to have regained their confidence after reaching the Spanish cup final midweek, and they took the lead in the first minute of the match with a Pandiani penalty after Ito pulled down Ibagaza. The visitors equalised midway through the first half, Fernando directing a well-placed header past Leo Franco from Denilson's pinpoint cross, but Lozano headed the hosts back into the lead five minutes after the restart from Ibagaza's centre. The result leaves Betis out of the UEFA spots in seventh place and takes Mallorca further away from the bottom spots.
Sevilla recorded their third win in a row, this time 2-0 over Osasuna, to move to within a point of city rivals Betis and three from the UEFA spots. The visitors were suffering from their midweek cup defeat, and they found themselves a man short when Paqui picked up two yellow cards within the first quarter of an hour. Things got worse for them immediately afterwards though when Antoñito turned in Fredi's free kick to open the scoring, and before the first half came to an end Reyes had scored a second from the penalty spot after Moha handled in the area.
Málaga picked up a morale-boosting 3-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao to set them up for their Thursday night UEFA cup clash with Boavista. Peiró's side were far superior to their Basque rivals, and took the lead midway through the first half when Darío Silva ran on to a Sandro through ball and unselfishly played the ball across for Dely Valdés to score. Manu added two more after the break, the first whem Larrazábal let him through and the second after Canabal had hit the post, to take his side back up to the top half of the table.
Espanyol failed to take advantage of their opportunities and ended up drawing 0-0 with fellow strugglers Recreativo Huelva. The Andalucians were clearly suffering from the after-effects of their historic cup victory mid-week, and only some excellent saves from Luque won them a point. The keeper stopped a second half penalty from Tamudo after Maxi was fouled in the area, and also made vital saves from Roger in the first half and Maxi and Milosevic after the break. The Catalans stay in eighteenth place, four points ahead of their opponents, but in fact are only six points away from ninth placed Barcelona. (09.03.03)
Real Madrid made sure of holding on to top spot early on with a 4-1 win over Racing Santander in the first match of the weekend. A penalty by Juanma on Ronaldo in the eleventh minute gave Figo the opportunity to open the scoring, and the Portuguese winger set up Zidane for a headed goal on the stroke of half time. In between the goals Ronaldo had been active, hitting the bar with a header after Lemmens had saved from Roberto Carlos, but Del Bosque rested him at the break, already planning for Wednesday night's clash with AC Milan. But Nafti pulled one back straight away and Casillas had to make a excellent save from Moratón to keep his side ahead as the visitors came back. Portillo though calmed the fans' nerves with a third goal after Raúl presented him with an easy tap-in, and Guti made it four after Raúl stepped over a square ball from Zidane.
Deportivo moved up to second place pending Real Sociedad's game on Sunday with a 2-1 win over Villarreal. They had to come from behind to do it though after Jorge López won an early penalty when Víctor pulled on his shirt, López converting the penalty himself. Referee Pino Zamorano made up for it though awarding a penalty kick to the home side on the half hour mark, this time less obvious after Belletti tackled Diego Tristán just inside the area, and Tristán stepped up to beat Reina from the spot. Ten minutes later Víctor put Irureta's team in front after Reina let a César header slip through his hands, and Makaay uncharacteristically missed two golden opportunities after the break to extend the lead. Depor ended the game with ten men after César was sent off for head-butting De Nigris.
Valencia drop to third in the table after they were defeated 0-1 by Atlético Madrid. Once again Rafa Benítez rested several of his key players for their midweek European date, giving Mista the striker's role alongside Aimar, but he was unable to make anything of the only chance which fell to him early on. The visitors had the better of the first half, with José Marí testing Cañizares with a header, but Valencia improved after the break and Aimar, Vicente, Angulo and Mista all went close. However a lapse of concentration let in Aguilera for him to head the only goal of the match from Albertini's corner, and although Baraja hit the bar with a late header, Cañizares had to save from José Marí at the end to prevent a bigger defeat. Atlético move up level with fifth placed Celta pending Sunday's games.
Barcelona though lost ground on the teams above them after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Valladolid. It was a strange game, with both goals scored in their own net by defenders. The home side were lucky to be let off a penalty appeal when Bonano tripped Pachón in the area, Iturralde González booking the striker for diving, but then took the lead when Torres Gómez deflected a wayward shot from Overmars past his own keeper. Valladolid equalised though immediately after the restart when Bonano punched Olivera's corner into his own goal, and Barça had their own penalty appeal for a foul on Sorín turned down soon afterwards. The bad news for the Catalans was another injury to Luis Enrique, who had to leave the field soon after coming on as substitute. (08.03.03)