Betis are sitting proudly at the top of the first division after a 4-3 victory over Zaragoza in the last of the midweek matches on Thursday night. A Santa Cruz strike from Chica's cross, and a Salva Sevilla penalty after Abraham fouled Jonathan Pereira, put them two up in twelve minutes. Juárez pulled one back before the break after Lafita prevented local keeper Casto from getting a clear punch on his clearance. But a Beñat penalty after Da Silva handled in the area, and a second from Santa Cruz soon after the restart appeared to have wrapped things up. However Casto was sent off with twenty minutes to go after bringing down Luis García outside of the area, and Juan Carlos scored two goals in three minutes, both volleys from the left of the area, to set up a nail-biting finish.
Earlier in the evening Espanyol beat Getafe 1-0 to keep up their 100% home record and leave Luis García's side further down in the drop zone. After a dull first half, the chances started to flow after the interval, with Thievy testing Moyà and Sergio García going close a couple of times. Moyà had to be on his toes to tip over a shot from the half-way line by Verdú, and Lopo cleared off the line from Weiss with the keeper beaten. Valera should have scored for the visitors though when he failed to beat Cristian Alvarez when free on goal late on, and the game looked like it was heading towards a draw until the first minute of injury time, when Moyà could only get a foot to Rui Fonte's cross, and Pandiani drilled the loose ball in to the net. (22.09.11)
The big two both dropped points in the midweek round of games, and although it is still far too early to say, maybe somebody else could get a look in this season? Valencia could be one of those, and they stay top of the table after they held Barcelona to a 2-2 draw, a result which maintains the two point gap over their opponents. With Alves playing further forward, Matieu took advantage to set up two goals from the left wing, the first a low cross which Abidal could only turn in to his own net. And after Pedro had equalised two minutes later from Messi's assist, the French wing back centred for Pablo Hernández to beat Valdés for a second time. Rami (already booked) was lucky to be let off a possible penalty on Messi a few minutes before Pablo's goal, but the locals could have had a penalty themselves when Puyol blocked the ball with his arm inside the area. Shortly before half time Soldado somehow failed to turn the ball in to the net from a yard out following another Matieu cross, and after the restart the striker wasted another chance from Pablo's centre. But Mascherano hit the bar and Guaita had to be at his best to save from Villa and Messi and with twelve minutes to go Fàbregas made it all square again from another Messi pass, his fourth goal in as many games in the league. There was still time for Villa to test Guaita again and for Messi to have another claim for a penalty rejected, and right at the end Jordi Alba was shown a red card for something he said to a linesman. But a draw was a fair result, and the Ches have shown that they will be a hard team to beat this season.
Real Madrid themselves could do no more than draw 0-0 at a depleted Racing Santander, a worrying result for Mourinho after the weekend defeat at Levante. The coach made five changes to his line up to try and turn things around, but it was more of the same, and they only managed a couple of shots on target all evening. Héctor Cúper was missing several of his first choice players, but his side more than held their own, and Ariel could have scored early on had he not taken too long over his shot. Callejón failed to reach Marcelo's cross and Ronaldo fired a free kick well over the top, but that was about it for a dull first half. Probably the best chance of the match fell to Oscar Serrano three minutes after the restart, Casillas pulling off a top class save from his shot, and despite the appearance in the second half of Di María, Higuaín and Kaká, local keeper Toño had little work to do. Madrid drop out of the European spots, and the face of club president Florentino Pérez after the final whistle said it all.
Málaga are another candidate for the top spots, and they are currently lying second after a 1-0 win over an Athletic Bilbao side who find themselves down in the relegation zone. The Andalusians started strongly, Eliseu firing a shot over the top after Duda put him through in the first minute, and Baptista rattling the bar with a free kick soon afterwards. Athletic are still finding their way under new coach Bielsa, and with a 3-3-3-1 formation they still looked a bit lost, their only chances a shot wide from Muniain and a Susaeta free kick which Caballero dealt with easily. After the restart Joaquín went close again, and with an hour on the clock Cazorla curled a free kick wide of Iraizoz to give the locals the lead, the third he has scored this season fron dead ball kicks. Caballero still had a couple of saves to make, but Cazorla and Baptista could have wrapped things up with a couple of dangerous free kicks late on. For a couple of hours though before Valencia and Barça played, Málaga were on top of the pack. The Guiri Army are going to enjoy themselves this season!
Atlético Madrid mustn't be ruled out of the running for the title either, and they continued their recent good form with a 4-0 victory over Sporting Gijón, their second such result in a row. Once again Falcao was the star of the match, the Colombian striker having a penalty appeal turned down and a goal incorrectly disallowed early on. Midway through the first half it was his shot from Gabi's corner which Lora could only turn in to his own net, and either side of half time he brought a good save out of Cuéllar and then hit the bar. It was Domínguez though who scored the second, running in to head another Gabi corner past the keeper, but Falcao rounded things off with two more goals, the first after a run which left three defenders for dead, and the second with an impressive header from Gabi's free kick. Agüero and Forlán may have moved on but there is a new king in the Calderón stadium, and Sporting (who have yet to pick up a point) could do little about it.
Rayo Vallecano and Levante are both expected to be fighting to avoid the drop at the end of the season, but right now both are riding high, Levante getting the edge 1-2 in today's game between the two to move up in to the Europa League spots, ahead even of Real Madrid. Valdo headed the first for the visitors early on from Koné's cross, and Ballesteros made it two on the half hour mark with another header from a Barkero corner. Sandoval turned to Movilla and Tamudo in the second half though, and Tamudo forced Munúa in to a good save before winning himself a penalty. The keeper guessed well and saved Tamudo's spot kick, but the striker reacted quickly and knocked in the rebound. A couple of minutes later though Botelho was sent off after a foul on a theatrical Ballesteros, and although Movilla and Piti kept Munúa in work with a couple of long shots, the visitors held on for three more valuable points. (21.09.11)
Osasuna restored some pride after their 8-0 humiliation in the Nou Camp, a 0-0 draw against Sevilla on Tuesday night taking them back up to tenth pending the rest of the midweek games. The Pamplona based side wanted to give their fans something to cheer, and visiting keeper Javi Varas was the busiest man on the park early on, with saves from Cejudo, Rubén, and a dangerous Lamah free kick which he pushed over the bar. Andrés kept his place in the Osasuna goal despite the hammering at the weekend, and he did well to save from Jesús Navas, Cáceres and Spahic before the break. Navas shot wide when he should have scored after the restart, and the two keepers made first class saves from Nino and Manu later on. The locals felt themselves unlucky not to have a penalty when Perotti handled in the area, and Lamah and Cejudo went close near the end. A good result for Mendilibar even so, and his team stay three points behind the Andalusians in the table.
Sevilla themselves are now third, a point ahead of Real Sociedad, who beat Granada 1-0. The Basque side dominated for most of the match, with Roberto having to save from Agirretxe and Iñigo Martínez early on, and Aranburu and Illarramendi going close. Granada's first shot at goal came close to half time, a speculative effort from Dani Benítez, and Diakhaté had to clear from Agirretxe after the interval with the keeper beaten. Diakhaté himself headed just over a few minutes later, but twenty minutes in to the second half Real went ahead when a wide cross from Estrada bent past Roberto in to the net. Sarpong missed a chance to increase the lead later on, but Pamarot could have saved a point for the Andalusians when he failed to hit the target from close up near the end.
Later in the evening Villarreal clocked up their first league win of the season, a 2-0 victory over Mallorca taking them above their opponents and out of the relegation zone. Rossi brought a good save out of Aouate before running on to Català's pass to beat the keeper in the seventh minute. And Nilmar tested the keeper again before picking up a through ball from Borja Valero to score a second just six minutes after the restart. Tejero and Alfaro both fired shots wide later on, and Nsue had a headed goal disallowed for offside soon afterwards. But Rossi also failed to convert a couple of chances and with the game coming to an end Zapata cleared a header off the line with the keeper beaten. (20.09.11)