Another brilliant performance by Lionel Messi kept Barcelona level with Real Madrid at the top of the table. The Argentinian forward scored his second hat-trick in a week to help his side to a 2-4 victory over Zaragoza at the Romareda stadium in the last match on Sunday evening. Messi opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a well-placed header from Pedro's cross, and netted his second midway through the second half after winning the ball off Ander in midfield and leaving Jarosik and Contini for dead before beating Roberto with an angled shot. A third came ten minutes later and the game appeared to be in the bag, but substitute Adrian Colunga caught out a sleepy defence twice in the last five minutes to put the locals back in the game. Messi produced another moment of magic though to win an injury time penalty off Contini, handing the ball to Ibrahimovic for him to score at last after several misses throughout the game.
Earlier in the evening Valencia consolidated third spot with a 2-0 victory over Almería, the result ending a run of seven games without defeat for the visitors. Unai Emery's side dominated the first half, with Diego Alves making good saves from Silva and Banega, Pablo Hernández and Villa going close and Mata having a goal disallowed for offside. Twenty minutes in to the second half though Mata finally found the net after Silva set him up, and Silva got the second himself a few minutes later, poking the ball past Alves whilst lying on the ground.
Valencia are now four points ahead of Mallorca, who moved above Sevilla after beating a tired Atlético Madrid 4-1. Víctor put the Islanders ahead in the tenth minute, shooting through the legs of Perea after the defender blocked his first shot. Diego Forlán equalised a few minutes later after Jurado set him up, but just two minutes after that Aduríz headed in Víctor's cross to restore the lead. Up to that point De Gea had been the most active player on the park, but Domínguez had a header cleared off the line by Corrales and Aouate had to save from Forlán just before the break. Raúl García got himself sent off however after picking up two bookings early in the second half, and the locals wrapped up their twelfth home win of the season with two late goals, the first a Perea own goal from a Julio Alvarez corner, and the second a spectacular volley by Mattioni from an Alvarez free kick.
Villarreal's hopes of European football next season took another set-back though after a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Málaga. The Andalusians were in need of a win after a string of recent poor results, and they had the better of the first half without really creating any clear cut chances. Twenty minutes after the restart though substitute Baha got on the end of Duda's corner to head past Diego López, and the two combined again with five minutes to go for Baha to bag his second of the evening from Valdo's cross.
Málaga move seven points clear of the drop zone, level on points with Racing Santander, who beat Osasuna 1-3 for a first win in eight games. The locals took the lead on the half hour mark when Miguel Flaño headed in Juanfran's cross, but just two minutes later Colsa equalised with an impressive shot from outside of the area. A few minutes after the restart Christian headed the visitors in front from a long Canales free kick, and Diop made sure of the three points after turning in a Munitis cross in a last minute break-away. (21.03.10)
Real Madrid kept up the pressure on Barcelona with a 3-1 victory against Sporting Gijón on Saturday evening. The Asturians put up a good fight however, and they even went ahead when Barral ran on to Camacho's lifted pass to beat Casillas ten minutes after the restart. A minute later though Van der Vaart equalised after Juan Pablo could only punch out Cristiano Ronaldo's free kick, and two minutes after that Xabi Alonso headed Madrid in front after Ronaldo headed on a corner. Casillas did well to keep out Miguel at the other end soon afterwards, and the team captain had to save from Diego Castro late on after Sergio Ramos gave the ball away, but Higuaín wrapped things up with an individualist third goal to take his side three points clear pending Barcelona's match on Sunday.
The top two are well clear of the rest, but the other two Champions League spots are still wide open, especially after fourth placed Sevilla lost 2-0 at Espanyol later in the evening. The Andalusians were licking their wounds after being knocked out of this season's Champions League midweek, and they went behind in the seventh minute when Osvaldo got on the end of a Marqués cross to head past Palop. Callejón should have added to the lead soon afterwards when he shot wide with the goal at his mercy, but keeper Cristian Alvarez had to save from an Escudé header to keep his side ahead at the break. Midway through the second half though Osvaldo got his second of the night after a quick passing move to take the Catalans clear of the danger zone.
Deportivo started their match against Valladolid with a chance of overtaking Sevilla in the table, but in the end they fell to a surprise 0-2 defeat which left them out of the European spots altogether. The Galicians never got going, and Borja shot just wide before Nauzet opened the scoring, driving a shot past Aranzubia after the keeper could only block an effort from Pedro López. Diego Costa somehow failed to hit the target after rounding Aranzubia late on, but with the game in injury time super-sub Medunjanin made sure of a first win for new coach Onésimo with his side's second goal after latching on to a cross from Marcos.
Depor dropped out of the top six, below Athletic Bilbao on goal difference after the Basque side drew 2-2 against Getafe. Orbaiz gave them an early lead after Llorente set him up, but Manu equalised with a cross which went past everyone in to the net a few minutes later. Orbaiz got himself sent off before the break for a retaliatory kick on Cortés, but even so Athletic appeared to have taken the three points when Llorente converted a penalty after Miguel Torres was red-carded for pulling down Susaeta. With four minutes to go though Pedro León frustrated his namesakes, levelling the scores once again with a shot which took a deflection off San José to wrong-foot Gorka.
The fifth game on Saturday involved two of the teams in the relegation spots, and bottom club Xerez kept their slim hopes of safety alive with a 2-1 win over Tenerife. The Andalusians went ahead in the seventh minute when visiting keeper Aragoneses carried the ball over his own line after catching a header from Mario Bermejo, and Aythami made it two a few minutes later after Gioda's header came down off the bar. Nino wasted a chance to get one back when Chema saved his penalty kick after Redondo handled in the area, but the striker made up for it heading Alfaro's cross past the keeper four minutes after the restart. The Canary Islanders could do no more though, and they drop below Valladolid in the table. (20.03.10)