Villarreal climbed out of the relegation zone after a 3-0 victory over fellow strugglers Sporting Gijón in the Monday night game. The hosts came in to the match in next to bottom spot, two points behind their opponents in the table after having only picked up one point since Molina took over two games ago. They had the better of the first half though, and twelve minutes after the restart they took the lead when Marco Rubén battled his way past four defenders to score. Two minutes later Borja Valero scored an impressive second with a shot from outside of the area, and the two goalscorers combined a few minutes later for Rubén to head Valero's free kick just wide. Juan Pablo made a good save from Joselu and Canella cleared off the line from Rubén as the locals continued to attack, and with the game already in injury time Castellani laid the ball back for Bruno to fire home the third. (23.01.12)
The big guns go booming on, Real Madrid and Barcelona both winning by the same scoreline to increase the gap over the chasing pack. Barcelona threw down the challenge with a 1-4 victory at Málaga on Sunday evening, their first away win in the league in six weeks. Valdés had to be at his best though to keep out Isco three times early on, but with just over half an hour on the clock Messi got on the end of Adriano's cross to steer a strong header past Caballero. Five minutes in to the second half it was all over, Alexis scoring a second after Thiago's shot was blocked, and Messi picking up a short pass from Fàbregas before running on to beat the keeper again. The Argentinian forward came close to a third when he rattled the bar with a free kick, but ten minutes from the end he did complete his hat-trick with another amazing run from the halfway line. Rondón got a late consolation for Pellegrini's side after Valdés saved from Isco, and Rondón and Seba both headed wide after that, but Messi had already ended any hope of a comeback.
Later in the evening Real Madrid responded with a 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao which maintained the five point gap over their arch-rivals in the table. They had to come from behind to do so though, Llorente firing the visitors in to the lead early on after Javi Martínez crossed in from the right wing. De Marcos missed a chance to score a second, but Marcelo equalised soon afterwards following a quick team move, picking up return passes from Ronaldo and Benzema before beating Iraizoz. De Marcos and Llorente went close again before the break, but just a minute in to the second half Iturralde pulled back Kaká inside the area, and Ronaldo stepped up to convert the resulting penalty. Twenty minutes later Ronaldo fired home a second penalty after De Marcos was sent off for tripping Özil, and with five minutes to go Callejón picked up a wide pass from Higuaín to beat Iraizoz for a fourth time. A fourteenth league win out of fifteen for Mourinho's side, and they are still on track to end Barça's dominance in recent years.
Third placed Valencia started the day with a 1-1 draw at Osasuna in their noon kick-off. The Pamplona based side have been complaining about referees recently, and once again there were protests as Fernando Teixeira Vitienes turned down penalty appeals for a hand ball by Dealbert a possible foul by Diego Alves on Lekic. Soldado ad Jonas fired shots wide at the other end in an otherwise dull first half, and after the break the visitng keeper made first class stops from a Raúl García header and a Nekounam free kick. With three minutes to go Soldado seemed to have won it for the Ches when he got his head to a wayward Banega shot to steer the ball past Andrés. But with the game in injury time Albelda got himself sent off for a two-footed tackle on Timor, and from the resulting free kick Lolo equalised after Alves could only push out Lekic's header. The draw keeps Osasuna in sixth place, just a point above three other teams.
Fourth placed Levante could only draw 0-0 against bottom club Zaragoza, who are now seven points away from safety pending tomorrow's match between Villarreal and Sporting. It was the dullest of matches, without a real clear cut chance throughout the ninety minutes. Iborra and El Zhar missed the target either side of half time, and Apoño at least gave Munúa some work with a couple of long shots in the second half. With the game coming to an end a selfish Postiga shot wide when Juan Carlos was better placed to score, and there was a last minute penalty appeal from the visitors when the ball hit El Zhar on the arm. The best that could be said was that both teams picked up a point, which may prove important to either come the end of the season.
Mallorca move away from the danger zone though after a 0-1 win at Rayo Vallecano which takes them level with their opponents in the table. Full of confidence having won two games in a row, the locals had the better of the first half, Aouate having to save from Piti and Michu early on. Michu headed another good chance over the top a few minutes later, and Casado hit the crossbar with a long, swirling cross shortly before half time. Up to that point local keeper Dani Giménez had hardly been troubled, but a few minutes after the restart Ramis got above the defence to head Chori Castro's wide free kick in to the net. And after that the visitors dominated, Dani saving another Ramis header, and Alfaro and Víctor Casadesús both failing to hit the target in the closing minutes. (22.01.12)
This Saturday should have seen the first day of the second half of the season, but instead first division sides will be playing out the outstanding games from day one, which was postponed from the end of August due to the players' strike.
With the top six all playing on Sunday, it was the turn of the other teams vying for the European spots to kick off the weekend. Espanyol in particular took advantage with a 3-0 win over Granada which takes the Catalans up to fifth in the table. Romaric, Raúl Baena and Didac all went close before Baena opened the scoring with a far post header after Thievy headed on Romaric's corner. Casilla had to save from Dani Benítez, but Romaric and Thievy both tested third choice keeper Julio César, who was making his debut due to injuries to Roberto and José Juan. And with the first half coming to a close Verdú added the second from the penalty spot after Nyom tripped Weiss on the edge of the area. For a short while in the second half Granada were on top without causing too many problems for the local keeper, and with ten minutes to go Rui Fonte completed the scoring with an acrobatic shot after Julio César could only push Romaric's wide free kick on to the bar.
Atlético Madrid also did well though, a 0-4 victory at Real Sociedad keeping them two points behind Espanyol in the rankings. Once again Falcao was the hero, the Colombian striker netting a hat-trick which included a third minute penalty after Demidov blocked Diego's cross with his hands. Carlos Vela and Agirretxe fired shots wide, and Zurutuza felt himself unlucky not to have a penalty after Juanfran blocked his shot with his arm. However in the first minute of the second half Adrián put the visitors two up, Bravo keeping out his first header from Juanfran's cross but unable to stop the striker from sweeping in the rebound. Elustondo went close at the other end with a wide free kick, but with eight minutes to go Falcao ran on to a long ball from Koke to catch the keeper off his line with an impressive lob from outside of the area, and the two combined again in the last minute for Falcao to complete his hat-trick and give Simeone's side their first away win of the season.
Sevilla are level on points with Atlético after a 1-1 draw at city rivals Betis in the last match of the evening. There was a tense atmosphere for the first meeting between the two sides in three years, the visitors getting the edge early on with efforts from Negredo and Navas before Beñat put the home side ahead with a well struck free kick. Local keeper Casto had to be at his best though to save from Luna and Fazio, and with four minutes to go to the break Negredo levelled the scores with a header from another Navas cross. Betis wrested back control after the restart, Montero forcing Javi Varas in to a good save and Cañas firing the rebound over the top, and with twenty minutes to go Marcelino's side were left with ten men when Fazio picked up a second yellow card. But despite their best efforts the locals could not find a way through, and in the end both teams settled for a point.
Earlier in the day Getafe came from behind to beat Racing Santander 1-2, a result which took Luis García's side four points above their opponents in the table. The Cantabrians had gone five games without defeat under their caretaker coaches, and a poor clearance from Rafa in the thirteenth minute allowed Adrián González to set up Stuani to give them the lead. However Gavilán equalised a few minutes later after Colsa could only head Abdel's cross in to his path, Toño had to make string of saves from Güiza, Miku and Gavilán soon after the restart. Moyà did have to keep out Acosta at the other end, but with seven minutes to go Miku picked up a centre from Pedro León to run through and fire in a shot which deflected off a defender in to the net for the winner. (21.01.12)