Villarreal are now surely firm favourites for the fourth Champions League spot after a 1-0 victory over Zaragoza on Monday took them nine points clear of fifth placed Athletic. Once again a Rossi penalty decided the match, the United States born Italian striker converting the resulting spot kick after Ponzio slid in to him with twenty minutes to go. Earlier on though only brilliant performances by both keepers had kept the scoreline unchanged, Doblas in particular making first class saves from Rossi and Nilmar before the break, and Diego López keeping out Uche a couple of times either side of half time. The visitors ended with ten men when Uche was given a second booking for what the referee considered was a dive in the area in the last minute, and the Maños end the weekend in the bottom three, below Málaga on head-to-head goal difference. (18.04.11)
Sunday's game between Osasuna and Athletic Bilbao ended with a last minute 1-2 victory for the visitors, a result which takes them back up to fifth in the table. It was a typical no-holds-barred Basque derby, and the only chances in the first half were efforts from Pandiani, Llorente and Muniain which didn't really trouble either keeper. Six minutes after the restart though the locals took the lead, Kike Sola beating Iraizoz with a shot on the turn after Sergio headed back a Puñal cross. Things appeared to be going Osasuna's way when Castillo was sent off for a second bookable offence, but Llorente headed in a David López cross to equalise, and soon afterwards numbers were evened up when Sergio was also red carded after picking up a second booking. Still a draw was on the cards until the last minute, when Ricardo came out of his area and bumped in to his own player, leaving the ball free for Muniain to turn it in to the empty net. A costly defeat, which leaves Mendilibar´s team just two points above the drop zone.
Later in the evening two of Athletic's rivals for the Europa League spots met, with Espanyol and Atlético Madrid cancelling each other out in a 2-2 draw. With only a minute on the clock the visitors went ahead, Koke latching on to a poor clearance by Galán from Reyes to poke a shot wide of Kameni. Callejón and Agüero both went close as the two teams vied for possession, but with seven minutes to go to the break Osvaldo picked up a long pass from Verdú and fired in a shot which took a deflection off Perea to wrong-foot De Gea. Four minutes after the restart though another defensive mistake allowed Atlético to restore the lead, Callejón turning the ball back from the touch-line to stop it going out of play, but only finding Agüero who outstripped young defender Raúl Rodríguez before chipping a shot past Kameni. Osvaldo was there again though ten minutes later to head another long ball from Verdú past De Gea, and Kameni produced the save of the night from Tiago a few minutes later to ensure a point for his side. Atlético stay seventh and Espanyol eighth.
Levante are without doubt the revelation side this season, and they are now in ninth spot, only three points behind Espanyol, after a 2-1 victory over local rivals Hércules. Rubén Suárez gave the Valencia based team the lead in the fourth minute with a well struck free kick, and he tested Calatayud again before Juanlu got the second, Valdo laying the ball back for the winger to score with an angled shot. A desperate Hércules pushed forward after the break, but the closest they came was when Munúa reacted well to keep out an effort from Juanra was deflected goalwards by Nano. Eventually substitute Trézéguet did get one back after Sendoa played through Kiko's headed pass, but it was already too late, and Caicedo could have increased the lead when he had a strike ruled out for a borderline offside near the end.
Hércules sink further in to the drop zone after Real Sociedad and Deportivo both recorded much needed wins. Real Sociedad beat Sporting Gijón 2-1, ending a worrying run of seven games in which they had only picked up one point. They were under pressure early on though from a team who are currently on a roll, De las Cuevas having a strike ruled out for offside and Bravo doing well to keep out Diego Costa. With just over half an hour gone Griezmann got on the end of Xabi Prieto's centre to steer a header past Juan Pablo, but Bravo had to be at his best to save from Barral before the break, and midway through the second half De las Cuevas equalised after Sangoy set him up. However Griezmann won it for the Basque side not without a bit of fortune, his shot from the edge of the area taking a deflection off Lora to fly past the visiting keeper in to the net.
Real Sociedad move level on 38 points with their opponents and with Deportivo, who won 2-0 against Racing Santander. The Cantabrians started the day two points above Lotina's side, and for most of the first half neither side had the advantage, the best chances falling to Cisma and Xisco. However with the first half in injury time Lassad got on the end of Manuel Pablo's cross to head past Toño, and just three minutes after the restart Xisco headed a second after Lassad crossed in from the left wing. Young substitute Luque came close to getting one back for the visitors, but Adrián had a goal ruled out for offside and then brought a good save out of Toño, and Lassad wasted a chance to wrap things up late on. (17.04.11)
The first of the four upcoming meetings between Real Madrid and Barcelona ended in a 1-1 draw, a result which maintains Barça's eight point lead at the top of the table. Mourinho decided on a defensive line up, and Casillas was only troubled by a couple of efforts from Messi before the break. Ronaldo had a header cleared off the line by Adriano in reply, and then hit the post with a free kick after the restart. But a minute later Villa (who had already had one penalty appeal turned down in the first half) was felled by Raúl Albiol in the area, the referee sending off the defender and awarding a spot kick which Messi converted. The ten men fought back however, and Ronaldo levelled the scores with a second penalty after Dani Alves brought down Marcelo late on. Honours divided in the first battle, and the two teams face up again in the Spanish cup final next Wednesday.
Earlier in the evening Valencia beat bottom club Almería 0-3 to move a step closer to tying up third spot. Both teams had chances in the first half, Banega brushing the post with a long shot and Piatti going close a couple of times. Five minutes after the restart however Soldado got on the end of Mathieu's cross to head past Esteban and open the scoring, and a quarter of an hour later Stankevicius made it two after Ricardo Costa headed over a cross from Juan Mata. Roberto Olabe's new side had nothing left after that, and substitutes Joaquín and Jordi Alba combined with ten minutes to go for the latter to wrap things up. Another good win for Unai Emery, although he will regret that he has probably contributed to his old team's relegation.
Almería's stay in the first division does look like it is coming to an end after two of their relegation rivals, Getafe and Málaga, both won. Getafe beat fifth placed Sevilla 1-0 to put an end to a worrying run of nine games without a victory and distance themselves from the danger zone. Michel's side dominated the first half against a depleted opponent, with Javi Varas having to save in particular from Víctor Sánchez and Adrian Sardinero, who was replacing the injured Manu. Soon after the restart Varas made another good stop from Sardinero, and Sevilla finally tested Ustari when Renato volleyed a cross from Cáceres straight at him. A few minutes later though Fazio failed to cut out Dani Parejo's high pass, and Miku collected the ball and went on to score what was to prove the only goal of the game.
Málaga themselves move seven points clear of Almería after a 3-0 victory over Mallorca, a result which takes them out of the bottom three, ahead of Zaragoza (who play on Monday) on head-to-head goal difference. The Andalusians started strongly, Demichelis and Duda going close early on. And although Caballero had to be on his toes to save from Webó and Nunes, Seba Fernández got on the end of Rondón's cross to give the locals the lead midway through the first half. Pellegrini could finally count on Baptista though after a long injury lay-off, and he was to make the difference after that, picking up a loose ball on the edge of the area to score the second shortly before half time, and then adding a third with a header from Duda's wide free kick some ten minutes after the restart. (16.04.11)