First division, day 19

Barcelona kept up the momentum at the top of the table at the mid-point of the season with a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad, although they struggled to beat ten men and only won thanks to a late strike from Samuel Eto'o. The Camerooni striker had missed a great opportunity to put his side ahead early on when he fired a penalty kick against the post after Iniesta had been fouled by Luiz Alberto. And only a couple of providential saves by Víctor Valdés from Kovacevic and Gabilondo either side of half time kept the scores level. But Real were left a man short when Xabi Prieto picked up a second booking, and Eto'o. Giuly and Puyol all went close before Eto'o finally headed past Riesgo after Márquez had played on a corner. Valdes was called upon though to stop another attack by Nihat before the referee finally called it a day.

Real Madrid stayed in touch with the leaders after coming from behind to beat Zaragoza 3-1. Luxemburgo's side found themselves a goal down when David Villa cut in from the left wing and beat Helguera and Samuel before rounding Casillas to score midway through the first half. Raúl equalised though before the break after a quick passing move, and after Alvaro was sent off for a second bookable offence, Ronaldo headed his side in front after Figo's shot was blocked by the keeper. Visiting manager Víctor Muñoz was clearly upset that referee Losantos Omar didn't rule the goal out for offside, and was even more so when Salgado hauled down Villa inside the penalty area. But substitute Michael Owen wrapped things up with a third goal near the end to take his side clear in second place.

Tragic events before the match between Osasuna and Valencia, when news came through just an hour or so before kick off that Caneira's baby daughter had died suddenly. The Valencia delegation considered asking for the match to be postponed, but they eventually decided to play on even though nobody had much interest in football. The game ended without goals, the only events worthy of note a couple of efforts at either end, and the sending off of local defender Izquierdo for a second bookable offence in the second half. Valencia ended the day in third place, two points behind Real Madrid.

A depleted Espanyol side saved a valuable point after drawing 1-1 at Athletic Bilbao. Injuries and suspensions meant that Lotina had to play youngsters Corominas and Jonathan up front, but they found themselves behind in only the third minute when Etxeberría got enough of a touch on Yeste's free kick to beat Kameni. The visiting coach changed things around though in the first half and got his reward when Maxi beat Aranzubia after De la Peña and Amavisca combined to set him up. But after the restart Kameni and Ibarra both had to stop efforts from young striker Llorente to ensure a point for the Catalans.

Betis consolidated their sixth position after beating Mallorca 2-0, and they move to within two points of city rivals Sevilla. Both goals came from Edu, the Brazilian forward combining with Joaquín and Oliveira to open the scoring in the first half, and heading a second late on from Joaquín's cross. The visitors ended the weekend in joint bottom spot, now six points away from safety, and to make matters worse they have to visit the Bernabeu stadium next weekend.

Villarreal are going from strength to strength, and they made it seven goals in two games in the new year after beating neighbours Levante 2-4. Guayre latched on to Riquelme's pass to open the scoring in the third minute, and Forlán added a second around the half hour mark. Rivera had a penalty saved by Reina close to half time, but made up for it by scoring after the restart. Forlán made it three for the visitors though, and although Reggi headed one back, Marcos Senna finished things off near the end.

Deportivo La Coruña's nightmare season continues though, and they have now gone seven games without a win after they were held to a 1-1 draw in the Riazor stadium by bottom club Numancia. Diego Tristán hit the bar in Depor's best chance of the first half, but the Galicians were left with ten men after the break when César was shown a second yellow card, and Tevenet struck a post with the resulting free kick. Pandiani headed the ten men ahead though after Víctor headed on Valerón's pass, but only four minutes later Carlos Merino gave his side their first point away from home all season after Molina could only punch away a long free kick.

A scoreless draw between Albacete and Racing Santander left both sides just a couple of points outside of the bottom three. It was a dull match, with few scoring chances throughout, although the visitors will be happier with the result than their opponents as they played the last twenty minutes with ten men after Pedro López was sent off for a second bookable offence. (16.01.05)

Málaga's new manager Antonio Tapia got off to the best possible start, his side beating neighbours Sevilla 1-0 on Saturday evening to record only their second win in thirteen games. Amoroso and Edgar both went close before substitute Wanchope got the only goal under unusual circumstances, the striker forcing the ball into the net from close up with help from Aitor Ocio after Esteban had failed to clear and a rebound had come back off the post. Sevilla hardly had a shot on target all evening, and they stay outside of the top four as a result.

Atlético Madrid also lost an opportunity to close up on the leaders after they were held to a 1-1 draw by city neighbours Getafe. César Ferrando's side took the lead ten minutes before the break when Jorge beat Sánchez Broto less than a minute after coming on as substitute, and they seemed to be on the way to victory when Pulido was sent off for a second bookable offence just before the half time whistle. But Craioveanu hit the post from a free kick as the hosts fought back, and Pachón saved a point for his side when he got on the end of Riki's cross later in the second half. (15.01.05)

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