A disastrous result on Monday night for Atlético Madrid just a few days before their epic cup tie with neighbours Real Madrid, Quique Sánchez Flores's side losing 4-1 to Hércules. By half time they were already four down, Tote starting things off by squeezing a shot past De Gea on the near post, his first goal in the top flight in seven years. Midway through the first hald Valdez curled the second past the keeper, and Thomert headed the third from Peña's cross with just over half an hour on the clock. And shortly before the half time whistle Trézéguet connected with Tote's through ball to sweep a shot past De Gea and make it four. After the restart Agüero hit the post with a wide free kick and Reyes and Fran Mérida went close, but Fritzler hit the post at the other end before Reyes cut in from the left wing to score a late consolation for the visitors. Atlético stay sixth, but this was not the result they wanted before Thursday's big game. (10.01.11)
Real Madrid kept up the pace with Barcelona, coming from behind to beat third placed Villarreal 4-2 on Sunday evening Cani ran on to Rossi's through ball to beat Casillas and open the scoring with only seven minutes gone, and although Cristiano Ronaldo equalised after Özil set him up three minutes later, Marco Rubén restored the lead for the visitors soon afterwards. Just before half time though Ronaldo lost his marker to head a wide Xabi Alonso free kick past Diego López, and with ten minutes to go the Portuguese forward came back from an offside position to pick up a loose ball and turn a shot past the keeper. And three minutes later substitute Kaká wrapped things up with a fourth goal from Ronaldo's cross to keep his side two points behind the leaders, and to increase the gap with their opponents to nine points.
Later in the evening Valencia consolidated fourth spot with a 0-1 victory over city rivals Levante, a result which takes them to within two points of Villarreal. Caicedo brought an early save out of Guaita and Robusté headed a free kick over the top, but the visitors should have gone ahead midway through the first half when they were awarded a penalty after Robusté blocked Maduro on the edge of the area. Mata fired his penalty kick over the top though, and later in the second half he was thwarted again when Reina touched his free kick on to the bar. Mata had the last laugh however, the Spanish international forward running through to pick up Pablo Hernández's pass and drive a low shot past the keeper with seven minutes to go.
Fifth placed Espanyol kept up the pressure on the Valencia after they beat struggling Zaragoza 4-0. Osvaldo headed the Catalans in to an early lead, but then had to be stretchered off minutes later with what looked like a serious groin injury. With half an hour on the clock Luis García made it two from the penalty spot after Diogo brought down Callejón in the area, and just three minutes later it was all over when young substitute Alvaro Vázquez ran on to score a third after Luis García intercepted the ball in midfield to set him up. Sinama-Pongolle, Gabi and Paredes all tried their luck for the visitors, but Alvaro hit the post before Luis García took advantage of another defensive mistake to gift a fourth goal to his namesake Sergio García.
Getafe stay in seventh place after a 0-0 draw at Osasuna. Both managers were missing key attacking players and it showed, the two sides creating several chances but unable to find the route to goal. The visitors had the best chances of the first half, the 39 year old Ricardo making important saves from Dani Parejo and Arizmendi close to the half time whistle, and Nelson clearing from Manu with the keeper beaten. Codina had little work to do against a side who are having problems scoring goals this season, with Juanfran (playing his last game before moving on to Atlético Madrid) just missing the target a couple of times after the restart. In the end though it was up to Ricardo to ensure at least a point for his side with late saves from Gavilán and Manu.
Almería ended the weekend in joint bottom spot after they were beaten 4-1 by Mallorca, the team they knocked out of the cup midweek. This was a different Mallorca side though, and they went two up at the break, with Ramis heading the first after Diego Alves could only push out a De Guzmán free kick, and Víctor Casadesus getting on the end of a cross from Joao Victor to slide in the second. Midway through the second half Crusat latched on to a loose ball after Kalu Uche was tackled in the area to pull one back, but just a minute later Nsue restored the two goal cushion after Víctor stepped over a cross from Webó. Kevin had to clear off the line from Piatti soon afterwards, but De Guzmán tested Alves a couple more times before Pereira picked up a pass from Castro to beat the keeper for a fourth time.
Sporting Gijón re level with Almería and Zaragoza after saving a 1-1 draw (and probably the head of coach Preciado) with a last minute goal against Racing Santander. The Asturians started well, Iván Hernández and José Angel bringing good saves out of Toño in the opening minutes. But Iván Bolado hit the post at the other end, and with half an hour gone Gregory deflected a long Kennedy free kick past his own keeper trying to clear. Both keepers were in action after the restart, Toño saving from Gregory and Sangoy, and Cuéllar stopping efforts from Adrián González and Rosenberg. But with the game already in injury time Diego Castro got on the end of Miguel's cross to head the ball in to the roof of the net, saving a vital point which takes his side off the bottom of the table. (09.01.11)
Barcelona beat Deportivo 0-4 on Saturday evening to move five points clear of Real Madrid pending their game on Sunday. Guardiola rested Xavi, Alves and Busquets, but even so they clocked up a comfortable ninth away win in a row, David Villa opening the scoring after Messi put him through midway through the first half. Abidal had a strike disallowed for a borderline offside a few minutes later, but six minutes in to the second half Messi made it two with a free kick which curled around the side of the defensive wall in to the top of the net. Depor's only efforts were a missed shot by Adrián and a long range shot from Rubén Pérez, and the visitors wrapped things up with two goals in a minute later on, Iniesta cutting in to beat Aranzubia and Messi passing through for Pedro to complete the scoring. Mission accomplished, and Iniesta, Messi and Xavi fly out to Zurich on Monday to see which of the three has been voted as Europe's "Balón d'Or" this year.
Athletic Bilbao are up to seventh after a last minute 1-1 draw at Málaga in the first game of the evening. Pellegrini included four new signings in his line up and his side had the better opportunites, Apoño and Duda in particular bringing good saves out of Iraizoz before the break. Muniain tested Sergio Asenjo for the first time soon after the restart, but Rondón and Apoño missed easy chances before Demichelis got on the end of Duda's corner to head wide of the keeper with ten minutes to go. Sebas could have added a second soon afterwards, but with the game in the last minute of injury time Javi Martínez headed Gabilondo's free kick past Asenjo to save a point for his team.
Sevilla are now level with Athletic on points after coming from behind twice to beat Real Sociedad 2-3. Diego Rivas put the Basque side ahead midway through the first half with an angled shot inside Palop's far post, but two minutes later Kanouté levelled the scores after Luis Fabiano headed back Perotti's corner. Palop had to be on his toes to keep out headers from Llorente and Zurutuza, but the keeper injured himself and could do nothing to stop Llorente restoring the lead with a speculative shot just before half time. With his side still behind Manzano brought on Negredo on the hour mark, and within five minutes he helped the Andalusians turn the scoreline around, firing in a shot following another Perotti corner which Luis Fabiano turned in from inches out, and then slipping a pass through for Kanouté to score his second of the evening. A second league win in a row, and Sevilla are back on track for the European spots. (08.01.11)