Espanyol's hopes for a return to European football took a turn for the better after they beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 in the Monday night game. Pochettino's side dominated the early play, and they went ahead ten minutes before the break when Osvaldo latched on to a loose ball in the area to fire a shot off the post past Iraizoz. Before the half time whistle though Susaeta equalised with a well struck free kick after he was fouled by Verdú on the edge of the area. The locals felt they should have had a penalty a minute or so later when Iván Alonso was brought down by Iraizoz, and the keeper did well to save from Jordi Amat early in the second half. With a quarter of an hour left on the clock however Alonso got on the end of Osvaldo's pass across goal to turn the ball in on the far post, giving the Catalans their first win in six games and taking them back to within three points of their opponents in the table. (02.05.11)
Valencia and Villarreal are still battling it out for the third spot, which gives direct access to the Champions League, and Villarreal are right back in it after a 2-1 victory over Getafe. Pedro Ríos gave the visitors a first half lead, but Ustari was called upon to make first class saves from Borja Valero and Cazorla either side of half time, and with an hour on the clock a quickly taken Cazorla free kick allowed Cani to level the scores. A quarter of an hour later Rossi headed the second from Marco Rubén's cross, and although Michel's side pushed forward after that they were unable to beat a confident Diego López. It was a great boost to the locals after their Europa League thrashing on Thursday, but it was a big blow to their opponents who drop down in to the relegation spots for the first time this season.
The gap between third and fourth is now down to three points after Valencia were beaten 1-0 by Osasuna later in the evening. The locals started the weekend down in the relegation spots and they came out looking for goals, Guaita doing well to tip an early header from Lolo over the bar and then blocking a shot from Camuñas. Valencia's only reply in the first half was a weak shot by Soldado, and although they started timidly to attack after the interval, Mendilibar's side went ahead when a speculative shot from Cejudo hit Stankevicius on the back and deflected in to the net. Mata did go close after that, but Osasuna could have won by a bigger margin had Camuñas been able to beat Guaita when free on goal late on.
Villarreal's win means they are now eight points above the fifth placed side pending Athletic Bilbao's Monday night game at Espanyol, with Sevilla the current incumbent after a 0-1 victory at bottom club Almería. Things could have been different though had referee Rubinos Pérez seen Fernando Navarro block Piatti's early header with his hands as it was heading for goal. Later in the first half though it took a fantastic double save from Diego Alves to prevent Diego Capel from opening the scoring, and six minutes after the restart the locals were left with ten men when Jakobsen was sent off for kicking Cáceres in the head as both challenged for a high ball. That was the beginning of the end for Roberto Olabe's side, and soon afterwards Renato headed in what was to prove the only goal after Alves and his defence allowed through a soft cross from substitute Rodri.
Almería's defeat means that they are all but mathematically relegated, and Hércules are now four points away from safety after losing 3-1 at Málaga. Once again Baptista did the damage, the ex Sevilla and Real Madrid forward scoring an acrobatic equaliser in the fourth minute after Valdez had headed the visitors in to the lead. Both sides missed easy chances before the break, but early in the second half Hércules were left with ten men after Fritzler was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Rondón, referee Undiano Mallenco awarding a penalty even though the incident had started outside of the area. Apoño drilled his spot kick against the post, but soon afterwards the Andalusians wrapped things up with two goals in three minutes, Rondón and Baptista both steering headers past Calatayud from Eliseu crosses.
The third relegation spot is by no means clear though after this weekend's results, and Getafe find themselves in the relegation zone after the teams below them all won. Racing Santander were one of those, and a 2-0 victory over Mallorca took them three points clear of Michel's side. The Cantabrians took the lead in the twelfth minute when Rosenberg got on the end of Giovani's cross to beat Aouate. And after Toño saved a Ramis penalty after Henrique had tripped De Guzmán on the edge of the area, Kennedy drilled in the second from a wide free kick which Aouate could only turn in to his own net. The Israeli keeper injured himself when he collided with the post in his attempt to save, and his replacement Lux was in action early on in the second half to keep out Munitis. In the end though it was his opposite number Toño who saved the day with two excellent stops from Ramis and Martí.
Higher up the table Levante and Sporting Gijón are probably safe after picking up another point in a dull 0-0 draw, although Sporting's 42 points may not even be enough this season, with so many clubs still in the fight. It was a dull game though, the only real action coming early on when Caicedo had a headed goal ruled out for a borderline offside, and visiting keeper Juan Pablo made a spectacular save from Rubén Suárez. Eguren tried his luck before the break and Caicedo and Iborra went close soon after the interval, but in the end both sides decided that a draw was a good result, and the crowd had to make up their own entertainment from there on. (01.05.11)
Surprises on Saturday evening, with Real Madrid and Barcelona both losing their respective matches. With the Champions League semi-finals taking centre stage though the two coaches rested several of their key players, and their opponents took advantage to pick up points which helped them in their struggle to avoid relegation.
Real Madrid kicked off the weekend against Zaragoza, with Mourinho leaving Cristiano Ronaldo in the stands. He missed him in the end though as the Maños ran out 2-3 winners to move four points clear of the drop zone pending Sunday's games. Javier Aguirre's side took the lead shortly before the break following a rare mistake by Casillas, the keeper missing a clearance from Uche allowing the striker to play the ball through for Lafita to score. Ten minutes in to the second half Gabi made it two from the penalty spot after Carvalho barged over Lafita, and although Sergio Ramos headed one back from an Özil corner, Lafita restored the two goal gap after picking up a cross from Uche. Before that Kaká had had a good penalty appeal turned down and Benzema had hit the bar, and with five minutes to go Benzema scored his side's second after Higuaín set him up. But Carvalho got himself sent off a minute later for a second bookable offence, and although Kaká and Benzema went close after that they couldn't prevent a second home defeat in four days.
Barcelona started their game at Real Sociedad later in the evening knowing that a win would virtually ensure them the league title. However despite taking a first half lead they were eventually beaten 2-1 by the Basque side, keeping the gap between the top two at eight points. Guardiola made seven changes to his line-up, although he had to change his plans when youngster Montoya went off with a broken collar bone early. Messi and Tamudo went close at either end, but with half an hour on the clock Thiago put the visitors ahead after Messi touched on Xavi's precision pass. Jeffren could have scored a second had he been able to beat Bravo after the restart, but soon afterwards Ifrán levelled the scores after Griezmann put him through. Milito felt himself unlucky to have a headed goal ruled out a few minutes later, but with eight minutes to go Xabi Prieto struck the winner from the penalty spot after Mascherano had fouled Griezmann to take Real safely up to mid-table and hand Barça their second defeat in the league this season.
The last match in the evening was between Deportivo and Atlético Madrid, with Quique Flores's side winning 0-1 to move up to fifth in the table pending Sunday's games. Reyes had an early goal disallowed for the positional offside of Diego Costa, and Guardado tested De Gea with a long shot a few minutes later. Either side of half time Agüero rattled the crossbar and then brought another good save out of Aranzubia, and with an hour on the clock the Argentinian striker was fouled by Lopo, the veteran defender having to leave the field of play after picking up a second yellow card in the action. With numerical advantage Atlético pushed forward, Aranzubia keeping out Ujfalusi before Agüero finally beat him with ten minutes to go. It was his eighth goal in the last seven games, and it takes his team to within five points of the Champions League spots. A bad result for Depor though, and with Real Sociedad and Zaragoza winning earlier in the day they find themselves seriously in the battle to avoid the drop. (30.04.11)