Barcelona are back at the top of the first division after a 0-1 win over bottom club Sporting Gijón on Sunday night. It wasn't their usual comfortable victory though, and the Asturians put up a good fight which gives them confidence for the future. Within twelve minutes Barça were ahead, Adriano following up after Xavi's shot came back off the post. But missing Iniesta and Fàbregas, the final pass after that fell short, and Villa and Messi both got caught in the offside trap more than once. After the restart only Messi caused any problems for Juan Pablo, the keeper saving a couple of efforts and another shot or two failing to find the target, and although Sporting themselves created little danger, there was always a chance they could save a point in the end.
Before Barça kicked off though, Levante had taken over top spot for the first time in their history after a 0-1 victory over last week's leaders Betis. It was an even battle at first, Koné shooting wide when free on goal and Juanma bringing a good save out of Munúa at the other end. Santa Cruz failed to hit the target and then had a penalty claim turned down, but with just over half an hour gone Juanlu got on the end of Valdo's cross to open the scoring. Koné got through again only to shoot straight at Casto, and Pereira tested Munúa a couple of times again before the break. And so it went on after the restart, Betis doing most of the attacking without really troubling Munúa too much. Levante lost that prime spot two hours later, but for a while they (as Betis had been the week before) were on top of the world!
Real Madrid are still just a point behind the two leaders though after a comfortable 0-4 win over Espanyol in the last game of the weekend. After dropping points in their last two away games, Madrid had a point to prove, and Alvarez was almost caught out in the third minute by a viciously swerving shot from Ronaldo which he just managed to deflect on to the post. Romaric almost caught Casillas off his line with a long shot soon afterwards, but a minute later Higuaín (taking advantage of a rare start) combined with Kaká and Ronaldo to put the visitors ahead. Midway through the second half Higuaín got his second of the night with an angled shot after picking up a pass from Arbeloa, and with eight minutes to go substitute Callejón made it three against his old club. Casillas still had to be on his toes after that to keep out Sergio García, but with the game coming to a close a Dátolo tackle fell kindly for Higuaín to run past Moreno and complete a much needed hat-trick.
Earlier in the evening Atlético Madrid and Sevilla drew 0-0, a result which kept them in eighth and sixth place respectively. Despite the result there was plenty of action, the two keepers Courtois and Javi Varas the men of the match. Varas kept out Reyes and Falcao in a first half which was dominated by the home side, with Tiago also going close two or three times. After the restart it was Sevilla's turn to attack, and Courtois produced great saves from Navas, Manu and Kanouté in quick succession. Rakitic and Spahic tried their luck, but Falcao missed the easiest of chances and Diego and Salvio shot wide, and with Atlético back in control, Varas produced first class stops again from Falcao, Reyes and Turan.
Sunday started though with the Basque derby between Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao, which kicked off at the unusual time of mid-day. And the visitors ran out 1-2 winners to clock up their first league win of the season. Bielsa's side were full of confidence though after their midweek Europa League win, and Bravo had to save from De Marcos and Muniain early on. With just over thirty minutes gone though Llorente picked up a De Marcos pass and turned past Demidov before steering a shot past the keeper. Real came back after the break, Zurutuza firing a shot just over the top, and Gurpegui lucky to get off with a penalty claim after he handled in the area. And on the hour mark Iñigo Martínez levelled the scores with the goal of the night, catching Iraizoz off his line with a shot from just inside his own half. Griezmann hit the post and Agirretxe brought a good save out of Iraizoz, but with the visitors on the back foot, Llorente got on the end of a long pass from Amorebieta to poke a shot past Bravo. Athletic had won bragging rights, and the three points takes them out of the relegation zone. On this form they won't be back there again. (02.10.11)
Málaga may have missed out on top spot last week, but this Saturday they made sure after coming from behind to beat Getafe 3-2. The Andalusians had the better of the first half, with Baptista having a penalty claim turned down and Van Nistelrooy and Baptista aiming good chances straight at the keeper. Ten minutes after the restart though Pedro León picked up a ball outside of the area and drove a long shot in to the top corner of the net. And although Van Nistelrooy levelled the scores with a header from close up after Cata díaz had cleared a Baptista header off the line, Miku restored the lead for the visitors with a goal which probably shouldn't have counted, Valera committing a foul before crossing in, and the striker's header hitting his own hand before entering the net. Lacen got himself sent off for a second booking in the protests from each side which followed, but Getafe held on until two minutes from the end, when Maresca scrambled the ball in to the net after Codina saved Mathijsen's header. Still a draw looked the most likely result until the third minute of injury time, when Rondón header over Maesca's long cross and Baptista flung himself in the air with his back to goal to smash a glorious overhead kick wide of the keeper.
Valencia played a couple of hours earlier, and up to Málaga's match they were in first position after beating Granada 1-0. Canales got the only goal in the third minute, picking up Piatti's back heel pass and firing a long shot across Roberto. But after that the keeper kept out all and sundry, saving from Soldado, Banega and Maduro before the break and Piatti immediately after. The midweek Champions League effort against Chelsea started to take its toll though, and the visitors came back, with Guaita having to save at the feet of Yebda, Geijo shooting just wide, and Iñigo López heading a corner against the crossbar. Even so the Ches could have won it by a bigger margin in the end, Soldado somehow putting a good chance over the bar and Roberto keeping out Jonas three times in the dying minutes.
The other three games on Saturday all ended in draws, with Villarreal's disappointing season continuing after they were held 2-2 by Zaragoza. They were grateful in the end for a point though after substitute Hernán Pérez headed the equaliser from a Marcos Senna corner late on. The visitors started strongly, Diego López doing well to keep out Postiga and Luis García before Luis García beat him from a wide angle after picking up a return pass from Meira. A few minutes later Villarreal were awarded a dubious penalty, either for hands by Meira or a foul by Lanzaro on Musacchio (neither of which appeared clear), and although Rossi was booked for stopping in the middle of his first run up, he slotted the ball home at the second attempt. Before half time though the Maños went ahead again when Barrera ran on to a long pass to beat the keeper, and after the restart the woodwork and some great saves by Roberto kept out the Rossi and the rest until Pérez finally struck.
A 2-2 draw as well between Osasuna and managerless Mallorca, who are temporarily being coached by Miguel Angel Nadal (ex Barça and Spain iron man and uncle of Rafa) after Michael Laudrup resigned midweek. Laudrup's teachings stayed on though and his ex side started well, with Pina and Nsue forcing Andrés in to good saves early on. With ten minutes to go to half time Flaño brought down Hemed inside the area, and the Israeli striker tucked away the resulting spot kick. But either side of half time Raúl García got on the end of two corners by Cejudo to head twice past Aouate, and when Nsue was sent off for kicking out in retaliation at Lamah, it seemed the locals had the edge. However a few minutes later Hemed converted a second penalty after Lamah tripped up Alfaro inside the box to complete what in the end was a palindromic scorecard.
Racing Santander and Rayo Vallecano themselves drew 1-1, a result which took the locals out of the relegation spots pending Sunday's games, and kept their opponents two points above them in the table. Chances were few and far between until the twentieth minute, when Tamudo ran on to Movilla's long ball to lob Toño for the opener. Michu could have added to the lead later in the first half, but Racing equalised on the hour mark, Adrián González heading past Dani after Oscar Serrano played back Munitis's pass for his side's first goal in the Sardinero stadium in over 450 minutes. Michu headed against the bar and then had another effort saved by Toño after that, and Diop and Adrián went close at the other end near the end. A fair result though, and a fourth draw of the season for the Cantabrians. (01.10.11)