First division - day 21

Leaders Barcelona kept up the twelve point gap over Real Madrid, although they left it late before beating Racing Santander 1-2. Zigic put the Cantabrians ahead from the penalty spot after Márquez tripped Pereira in the area. Guardiola turned to Messi, who he had been saving for the upcoming cup semi-final, and within a couple of minutes he had equalised after Xavi's header came back off the bar. And with ten minutes to go Messi collected a high ball on his chest and struck an angled shot past Toño for his side's 5,000th goal in the league. Márquez and Piqué were both sent off in the final minutes for fouls on Tchité, but the game ended soon afterwards.

Third placed Sevilla slipped six points behind Real Madrid after losing 1-0 to Sporting Gijón in the last match of the weekend. With a cup semi-final coming up, Manuel Jiménez rested some of his key players. But Palop had to save a Bilic penalty before Diego Castro headed Carmelo's cross past him with just over a quarter of an hour gone. The Asturians were left with ten men though shortly before half time when Canella was sent off, but they held on to win, with Lafuente in particular making a string of saves in the second half.

Valencia consolidated fourth spot after a 3-2 win over Almería. Joaquín opened the scoring in the sixth minute, and although Negredo equalised with an acrobatic shot, David Villa restored the lead from the penalty spot on the half hour mark after Mata was fouled in the area. Villa got his second of the night after the restart, but Negredo replied again for the visitors, and only an injury time save by César from Piatti prevented Hugo Sánchez's team from saving a point.

Deportivo moved up to sixth, just a point now behind Villarreal after they beat Pellegrini's side 3-0. Lafita started things off in the second minute, and added a second after picking up Riki's pass with an hour gone. Riki made it three a few minutes later, and Aranzubia rounded off a good night with a penalty save from Marcos Senna late on.

Atlético Madrid drop out of the European spots after a 1-2 defeat at the hands of Valladolid. Neither side had won since the start of the year, but the visitors took the lead when Luis Prieto drilled a shot past Leo Franco five minutes in to the second half. García Calvo turned Forlán's shot past his own keeper three minutes later, but Víctor converted a penalty after Pernía had fouled Goitom to give his side the three points and leave Javier Aguirre's job hanging by a thread.

A three way tie at the bottom of the table after today's matches, with Osasuna moving off the foot of the table after beating fellow strugglers Mallorca 1-0. Pandiani headed in the only goal as early as the third minute, but they could have won by more if Dudu Aouate had not saved a second half Puñal penalty. David Navarro were both sent off though and will miss the semi-final against Barça, and Nekounam was also red-carded near the end.

Espanyol could only draw 1-1 with Recreativo on a rainy night in Barcelona, although they will feel themselves unlucky after letting in an injury time penalty. Nico Pareja had headed the Catalan side into the lead from Nené's free kick on the hour mark, but Kameni was sent off for bringing down Marco Rubén in the last minute, and the striker stepped up to beat stand-in keeper Pareja.

Betis are still only a couple of places off the relegation spots after a 2-2 draw with Getafe. Two goals in the first ten minutes from Juanma and Mark González appeared to have set them on the road to a much needed victory. But Juande was sent off for a second bookable offence with only half an hour gone, and Uche scored twice after the break to level the scores. Local keeper Ricardo prevented any further damage though with a penalty save from Soldado near the end. (01.02.09)

Real Madrid made it six wins in a row after beating Numancia 0-2 on Saturday evening. The locals held on until the second half, when Juan Pablo could only block Higuaín's shot and Raúl nipped in to equal Di Stefano's club scoring record. And a few minutes later Robben cut through the defence to make it two and take his side to within nine points of leaders Barcelona.

Earlier in the evening Athletic Bilbao came back from behind to win 3-2 against Málaga. Luque put the visitors ahead early on, and although Yeste equalised before the break, Lolo headed in a long free kick to restore the lead after the restart. At that point Málaga were in the Champions League spots, but goals from Llorente and Susaeta turned the scoreline around. (31.01.09)