First division, day 18
A bad start to 2005 for leaders Barcelona, who fell to only their second league defeat of the season at the hands of Villarreal. Diego Forlán started things off for the locals, picking up a return pass from on-loan Riquelme to fire a shot past Víctor Valdés on the half hour mark, and Gonzalo Rodríguez made it two immediately after the restart, again after Riquelme set him up with a long free kick. Barça's only chances came from a long Eto'o shot and a possible penalty on the Camerooni striker, and Villarreal could have scored a couple more before Forlán made it 3-0 late on.
Real Madrid took advantage to close the gap to seven points after beating Atlético Madrid 0-3 in their local derby. Vanderlei Luxemburgo was in charge for the for the first time (Wednesday's six minutes excepted), and he saw his side take the lead early in the first half when Ronaldo connected with a Roberto Carlos cross to beat Leo Franco. Casillas had to be at his best though to keep out Salva, Fernando Torres and debutant Gronkjaer, but Solari and Ronaldo added two more in the last ten minutes to take Madrid level with second placed Valencia.
Espanyol moved back up to the Champions League spots after a convincing 4-1 win over Osasuna. It was the visitors who took the lead though when Webó beat his fellow countryman Kameni from outside of the area, but a defensive error let in Maxi to equalise, and Fredson headed the Catalans into the lead from De la Peña's corner soon afterwards. De la Peña added a third himself before the break from a free kick, and Fredson rounded things off with another headed goal late in the second half.
The top five opened up a five point gap over the rest, with just two points separating six sides fighting for the last UEFA spot. Betis are still in sixth place though despite losing 1-0 to Zaragoza, thanks to a better goal difference than Osasuna. Birthday boy Savio got the only goal of the game late in the first half, although the Andalusians were lucky not to save a point after Israel and Edu both hit the woodwork after the break. The win ends the host's run of three home defeats in a row.
Deportivo kept in touch with the chasing pack after they picked up a point in a 2-2 draw at Mallorca. All the goals came in a quarter hour period early in the second half, with Luque combining with his ex Mallorca team mate Diego Tristán to put the Galicians ahead. New boy Okuko set up Luis García for him to head an equaliser, but Luque restored the lead a few minutes later after Westerveld had saved from Munitis. Okubo levelled the scores just two minutes later though, heading Campano's cross over Molina to get off to a great start with his new club.
Real Sociedad don't seem to have recovered from their defeat in Madrid earlier in the week though, and they lose ground on the chasing pack after a 0-2 defeat at the hands of Albacete. Both goals came from Pacheco, the first with a long shot in the sixth minute which bounced past Riesgo, and the second after a dreadful mistake by the young keeper just three minutes in to the second half. Real felt they should have had a goal though when the referee ruled that the ball had not crossed the line after Gaspercic stopped a shot from Gabilondo later on.
Racing Santander beat fellow strugglers Málaga 2-1 to move level with Albacete and Getafe and open up a four point gap between them and the bottom three teams. Javi Guerrero headed the Cantabrians in front and Regueiro added a second following a short free kick before the break, with César Navas heading a late consolation for the visitors. Three players were sent off as the game ended in a brawl, and Málaga sink further into the drop zone having only won once in their last twelve games. (09.01.04)
League football returned after the two week Christmas break, with three games brought forward to Saturday evening. Valencia consolidated their second place in the league with a 2-1 win over city neighbours Levante, the first meeting between the two sides in the first division in forty years. All three goals came after the break, Baraja heading the home side in front and Mista getting the second in controversial circumstances, referee Teixeira Vitienes allowing the goal even though visiting keeper Mora appearing to stop the ball before it crossed the line. Congo pulled one back later on, but Ranieri's side held on for the win to close the gap with Barcelona to seven points.
The other two games on Saturday ended all square, with fourth placed Sevilla being held to a 0-0 draw by Getafe, and the match between Numancia and Athletic Bilbao ending 1-1. Del Horno had headed the Basque side in front on the stroke of half time, but Tevenet levelled the scores after the break. (08.01.05)