First division, week 21

A surprise at the Mestalla stadium, where Osasuna beat Valencia 0-1 to leave Real Madrid two points clear at the top. The only goal came at the end of a dull first half, when Pellegrino turned a cross from the wing into his own net past Cañizares. Rafa Benítez threw on more fire power in the second half, and his side came close to equalising when Vicente hit the post. But Osasuna pulled even further back, and when Carboni was shown the red card four minutes from the end for stamping on an opponent they had won the battle. The Pamplona based side move back up to fifth, and continue to be one of the revelations of the league this season.

Third placed Deportivo La Coruña also lost 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao, and they ended the weekend some six points behind the leaders. The game got off to a lively start, with Urzaiz and Javi González going close for the locals and Aranzubia saving well from Valerón's header. A mistake by Molina five minutes after the restart though allowed Yeste to score the only goal of the game, the keeper attempting to push the midfielder's shot over the bar and only succeeding in turning it back into the net. Irureta brought on Munitis, Fran and Djalminha, and Diego Tristán came close to scoring a couple of times. But eventually the three points stayed in the San Mamés stadium, taking Athletic to within three points of the UEFA spots.

One goal separated the two teams as well in the match between Sevilla and Barcelona, where Kluivert's strike gave the Catalans a 0-1 victory and three points which keeps them in seventh place. Either side could have scored early on, with Luis García shooting wide for the visitors and Baptista and Darío Silva both going close at the other end. Kluivert got on the end of Luis García's cross though on the half hour mark to steer a header past Esteban, and the visitors held on under the local pressure which continued right to the end, despite the sending off of Martí with five minutes to go. The result takes the pressure off Rijkaard, who may have been out if the team had put up another poor performance.

There were lots of goals though in the other five games on Sunday, and non more so than at Celta, where the locals lost 2-5 to a Real Sociedad side who have now won four games in a row. Gustavo López headed the Galicians in front with less than a minute on the clock, but Xabi Alonso set up Kovacevic for his first goal in three months and Milosevic put through his own net following a corner near half time to turn the score around. Luccin made it all square from the penalty spot soon after the restart, but Berizzo was sent off for a second bookable offence and Xabi Alonso headed the visitors back in front soon afterwards. Nihat added two more later in the half to finish things off, and local fans called for the head of their manager at the end.

Contrary to tradition, neither of the new managers won their games this weekend. John Toshack returned to Spain to take over at bottom club Real Murcia, but his side lost 3-2 to in an exciting finish at Racing Santander. The man who did the damage was Javi Guerrero, who scored a hat-trick which included the winning strike in the third minute of injury time, just two minutes after David Karanka had levelled the scores for the second time. Guerrero had put the Cantabrians in front on the half hour mark, but Esnaider had equalised on the stroke of half time, his first goal in Spain in three years.

Zaragoza's new boss Víctor Muñoz also saw his side defeated 1-3 by Mallorca, a disappointment after their cup victory at Barcelona midweek. Visiting manager Luis Aragonés drafted new signing Delibasic straight into the starting line up and he got off to the best possible start, opening the scoring with a headed goal and then setting up Bruggink for a second in a three minute period just before the break. Ponzio hammered one back in the second half, but Nené got a third goal near the end to keep the locals down in the bottom three.

Goals too at Málaga, where visitors Valladolid came away with all the spoils after a 2-3 victory. Neither side had won in the new year, but the locals seemed to be on their way when Salva stabbed the ball into the net midway through the first half. Romero hit the post later in the half, but before the break Oscar González levelled the scores with a spectacular volley, and added a second after the restart to put the visitors ahead. Julio César got on the end of Ricchetti's free kick to make it three, and even though Salva pulled another one back near the end. it was too late.

A disappointing result as well for next to bottom club Espanyol, who are now seven points away from safety after losing 1-2 at home to Betis. Luis Fernández's side found themselves behind in the ninth minute after a spectacular strike by Mingo, and the visitors went further ahead with a Fernando penalty on the half hour mark after a foul by new signing Vignal. Tamudo got one back after the break, also from the penalty spot after Lembo pushed over Maxi, but the unfortunate Vignal got himself sent off for a late tackle soon afterwards, and Betis held on for three valuable points which takes them clear of danger.(25.01.04)

Real Madrid threw down another challenge to Valencia with a 2-1 victory over Villarreal. Carlos Queiroz's side moved back to the top of the table for 24 hours at least with their eleventh home win in a row, a game in which they were only really troubled by their opponents in the last twenty minutes or so. The manager gave Solari a spot in the starting line up in place of the injured Zidane, and the Argentine midfielder combined with Figo in the fourteenth minute to drive a low shot under Reina. Ronaldo added a second ten minutes into the second half with a first time shot from Guti's pass, virtually his first touch of the ball all night, and the game appeared to be over. Benito Floro made a triple change though, and Casillas had to save from Belletti before Ballesteros finally beat him with a header from Belletti's corner to set up a nervous last five minutes or so.

Atlético Madrid hold on to fourth spot after a 1-1 draw at Albacete, although they will be ruing the fact that they could have picked up all three points with a little more effort. Gregorio Manzano's side dominated the first half, and took the lead when Nano's free kick deflected into the net off the defensive wall on the half hour mark. The locals came back after the break though, with Aranda causing some problems for Juanma in the local goal, and they levelled the scores when Lequi turned Parri's cross into his own net. Fernando Torres could have won it though had Pablo not made an important tackle in the final minutes. (24.01.04)

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