First division - day 21
With only just over half the league gone Real Madrid appeared to have the title sewn up already. Bernd Schuster's side opened up a nine point gap over Barcelona after a 3-2 win over third placed Villarreal, who themselves are another six points adrift. Guti set up Robinho to open the scoring in the eighth minute, and although Rossi equalised soon afterwards (the first that Casillas has let in for seven games), Robinho restored the lead after the restart. Capdevila made it all square again following a corner, but Sneijder ran on to Gago's lofted pass to fire home the winner a couple of minutes later.
Barcelona themselves dropped two more points on their rivals after drawing 1-1 at Athletic Bilbao earlier in the evening. Messi returned to the starting line up and had a hand in the first goal, Aranzubia clearing only as far as Deco who set up Bojan to score ten minutes before the break. Henry, Deco and Messi all had chances after the restart, but Javi Martínez tested Valdés and Llorente finally got on the end of an Aitor Ramos cross to turn the ball past the keeper with a little help from Thuram. The result keeps Athletic a point above the drop zone.
As it happened though none of the five sides immediately behind Real Madrid were able to win. Real's neighbours Atlético Madrid were beaten 1-0 by Mallorca, although results elsewhere means they hang on to fourth spot. With an intensive program of games, Javier Aguirre rested Agüero and gave a rare start to Mista. But they were unable to create many chances, and the locals went ahead midway through the first half when Arango beat Abbiati after the keeper could only parry a shot from Fernando Navarro. Atlético's challenge ended when Reyes got himself sent off for a second bookable offence later on.
A midweek training ground injury left Espanyol without team captain Tamudo, and his absence was noted as they lost 1-2 to Betis. The Andalusians took the lead on the stroke of half time when Rivera ran on to Arzu's through ball to roll a shot past third choice keeper Casilla, who was in the line up due to the unavailability of Kameni and Lafuente. Luis García equalised with a well struck free kick six minutes in to the second half and Coro hit the bar later on, but Edu headed a last minute winner for the visitors from Xisco's cross.
Even the on-form Racing Santander were unable to win this weekend, the Cantabrians being held to a 2-2 draw by Zaragoza. Young striker Iván Bolado gave them a third minute lead, but Diego Milito levelled the scores on the hour mark, and Celades appeared to have won it for the visitors before Tchité saved a point with a last minute strike. Curiously Racing were up against their third Zaragoza coach this season, Javier Irureta taking over after Garitano (who managed the side in the recent cup tie) resigned for personal reasons just 10 days after replacing Víctor Fernández.
Valencia's nightmare season continues, and the crowd turned on coach Ronald Koeman after they lost 0-1 to Almería. Since Koeman took over ten games ago they have only picked up six points, and they drop into the bottom half of the table, only five points off the relegation zone. Felipe Melo got the only goal of the match in the twentieth minute, beating Hildebrand at the second attempt after a failed clearance by Arizmendi, to take his side up to eighth spot.
Getafe moved ahead of Valencia in the table as well after beating Recreativo 1-3. Within two minutes they were in front after Albín cut through to chip Sorrentino, and although Camuñas fired in an equaliser a quarter of an hour later, Granero put Laudrup's side back into the lead from a direct free kick close to the break. And Manu headed a third against his old club in injury time to send Recre down into the bottom three.
Deportivo moved to within two points of safety after a 3-1 win over Valladolid, their first victory in the Riazor stadium in 133 days. The mere presence of Valerón on the bench after a two year injury lay-off seemed to inspire the Galicians, and Lopo opened the scoring in a goal mouth scramble early on. Xisco and Guardado scored two more after the interval, and with Valerón on the park, Víctor got a late consolation for the visitors.
Bottom club Levante also won this weekend, a 2-3 victory at Murcia their first away from home all season. All the goals came in the second half, Iván Alonso putting the locals ahead, but an Alvaro header and a controversial Riga penalty (with Mejía sent off for insulting the referee) turning the scoreline around. Kujovic pushed an Abel corner into his own net to make it all square again, but ex Murcia midfielder Pedro León came on to score the winner in the last minute. (27.01.08)
Only one match on Saturday night, with Sevilla beating Osasuna 2-1 to move up to seventh spot pending Sunday's games. The match ended in turmoil though after referee Iturralde González awarded a controversial injury time penalty to the locals, and the police had to separate players and staff at the end. Poulsen had given the Andalusians the lead when he turned in Chevantón's free kick ten minutes in to the second half, but Kike Sola equalised with an individualist goal a few minutes later. However Iturralde (who had already sent off Josetxo) pointed at the spot and sent off Javi García after the ball hit the midfielder on the arm whilst on the floor, and Luis Fabiano stepped up to drive home the resulting penalty. (26.01.08)