Villarreal's great season continues, and they are up to third in table after a 0-1 victory over sixth placed Athletic Bilbao on Sunday evening. The first half though belonged to the locals, with Llorente going close a couple of times early on and Diego López having to save from Muniain and David López. However with just under an hour on the clock Marco Rubén got clear of his marker to head Borja Valero's cross past Iraizoz, and only a good save by the Bilbao keeper prevented Cazorla from scoring a second a few minutes later. Athletic kept up the fight to the end, Llorente coming close to equalising when Diego López turned his header round the post. But this was not their night, and after qualifying for the last eight of the Europa League a few days ago, Juan Carlos Garrido's side go rolling on to what looks like a sure place in next season's Champions League.
Villarreal move above Valencia on goal difference after the Chés were beaten 0-1 by Sevilla later in the evening. Despite the scoreline it was an entertaining game, with the two keepers the busiest men on the field. In the opening minutes Guaita pushed a wide Navas cross on to the bar, and Javi Varas did well to keep out Soldado. Negredo fired a shot against the post and Jonas failed to find the net when free on goal, and after the restart Varas pushed an effort from Mata on to the bar and then made first class saves from Soldado, Jonas and Tino Costa. The only goal though when Rakitic beat Guaita after Negredo's previous shot was blocked, and only another good save from the local keeper prevented Negredo from making it two late on. The win takes the Andalusians up to seventh, level with Athletic in the table.
Athletic's loss means that Espanyol stay in fifth spot despite a 2-0 defeat at bottom club Málaga. The Andalusians got off to a great start, Rondón taking advantage of a failed clearance by Jordi Amat to volley home the first in the seventh minute, and then turning in Portillo's cross for the second a few minutes later. And for the rest of the first half Pellegrini's side came looking for more, Kameni making a string of first class saves from Rondón, Apoño, Portillo and Sebas to keep his side in the game. The Catalans improved a bit after the break, Osvaldo coming on to test Willy Caballero and the keeper saving a Luis García free kick, but once again Kameni had to be at his best to stop Recio late on. A second win in a row for the locals, and they are now just a point away from safety.
Málaga move above Almería and Hércules after both lost their respective matches. Almería were beaten 1-0 by Sporting Gijón, a result which takes the Asturians six points above their opponents in the table. The match was not without controversy though, De las Cuevas clearly controlling the ball with his arm before scoring the only goal of the match in the thirteenth minute. Before that André Castro had headed against the post, but after the goal the best chances fell to the visitors, Mbami shooting over the top and Juan Pablo saving a header from Goitom, who also had a strike ruled out for offside. The local keeper almost let Goitom through after the break, and a defender cleared an Ulloa header off the line soon afterwards. But Sporting held on for an important win which ended Almería's mini-run of three games without defeat.
No doubts about the result in Alicante though, Osasuna thrashing Hércules 0-4 to leave their hosts down at the foot of the table. Camuñas opened the scoring for the visitors early on after good work by Vadócz, and soon after Kike Sola hit the post, Nelson got the second after Calatayud could only push out Sola's cross. Valdez went close a couple of times for the home team either side of half time, but a quarter of an hour in to the second half Vadócz got on the end of Masoud's wide free kick to make it three. Eight minutes later Sola got the fourth with a clever back-heel flick from Monreal's cross, and although Ricardo had to make a couple of saves after that from Drenthe and Cristian, the locals never really looked like scoring. Another poor result for Hércules, and the defeat cost the job of local coach Esteban Vigo, who was fired soon after the game ended.
Racing Santander move away from the danger zone though after beating Real Sociedad 2-1, their first victory in five games. An active Kennedy fired a couple of shots wide before he finally beat Claudio Bravo with a speculative shot which took a wicked deflection off De la Bella to dip over the keeper. Midway through the second half Griezmann fired home an impressive equaliser from Xabi Prieto's long cross, and Toño pulled off the save of the night from substitute Ifrán just a couple of minutes later. Soon afterwards though Giovani ran on to Cisma's return pass to slide a shot wide of Bravo, and Racing were back in the lead. Real felt themselves unlucky not to save a point late on when Xabi Prieto's free kick hit the post before rebounding in to the hands of Toño, the referee waving away claims that the ball had crossed the line. But for the fifth game in a row they had failed to win, and their chances of a place in Europe next season are now looking remote.
Levante are now level on points with Real Sociedad after a last minute 0-1 victory at Deportivo. The Valencia based side have had a remarkable run recently, their only defeat in the last eight games in the Bernabeu stadium, and they totally dominated this match from start to finish. Valdo somehow heading over from two yards out early on, Aranzubia saving from Caicedo and Valdo, and Stuani comnig on to fluff his shot from close to goal. Ex Depor keeper Munúa only had to save a couple of soft efforts from Lassad, and Juanlu and Stuani both failed to convert chances after the restart. The game appeared to be heading for a goal-less draw though until Rubén Suárez bent a long free kick through the hands of Aranzubia to leave the Galicians floundering, just two points now above the relegation spots. (20.03.11)
The status quo continues for another week as the top two both won again on Saturday evening. First up were Barcelona, who beat Getafe 2-1 to throw down the gauntlet once again to their eternal rivals. Codina was in the right place to block an overhead kick from Messi early on, but he could do nothing soon afterwards when Dani Alves took advantage of a high clearance from the visiting defence to smash a first time volley past the keeper. As usual Barça dominated play after that, David Villa and Messi going close and Villa having a couple of penalty appeals turned down, although Valdés had to be on his toes to keep out Casquero before the break. Four minutes after the restart though Bojan picked up a pass from Messi to make it two with a shot which Cata Díaz deflected past his own keeper, and Villa had a couple of chances after that to increase the lead. However with three minutes to go Manu del Moral got on the end of a Víctor Sánchez cross to turn a shot wide of Valdés, and there were some nervous moments before Guardiola's side could dedicate a victory to defender Abidal, who is recovering in hospital after having a tumour removed from his liver.
Later in the evening though Real Madrid took up the challenge, beating Atlético Madrid 1-2 to maintain the gap at the top to five points. Atlético had not won against their city rivals in their last twenty meetings. And once again they went behind early on when Khedira slipped the ball through for Benzema to turn a shot past De Gea, the striker's tenth goal in eight matches. After that the home side took the initiative, but they came up against an excellent Casillas, who kept out a couple of shots from Agüero and a header from Godín. And with just over half an hour on the clock a good run from Marcelo ended with the Brazilian full back laying the ball across for Özil to score the second. Early in the second half Agüero got free on goal only to come against Casillas once again, and a not fully fit Cristiano Ronaldo headed wide at the other end a few minutes later. Agüero finally did beat Casillas after picking up a return pass from Koke with four minutes to go, but the keeper was there again to save a late Godín header and protect a record which has now gone on for eleven years.
The first match of the weekend was between Mallorca and Zaragoza, Michael Laudrup's side winning 1-0 to keep up their push on the European spots. The Islanders dominated the first half, with Nsue heading just wide following a corner and Doblas doing well to keep out Chori Castro and Nsue later on. Bertolo went close for the visitors before the interval, but Tejera and Cendrós kept up the pressure for the home side after the restart. The turning point though came midway through the second half when Doblas handled just outside of the area, De Guzmán finding a gap in the defensive wall to fire the resulting free kick past substitute keeper Leo Franco. Aki just failed to hit the target a few minutes later, but the visitors almost saved a point when Braulio hit the bar in injury time. (19.03.11)