Atlético Madrid are once again on track for the European spots after a 0-1 victory at Osasuna on Monday night, and they ended the day in seventh spot, just behind Athletic Bilbao on goal difference and only two points off fourth placed Levante. New coach Diego Simeone has re-motivated a tired side, and they took control in a stadium which has proved difficult for many teams. Koke brought a good save out of Andrés early on, and Godín put the visitors ahead with six minutes to go to the break, turning the ball in from close up after the keeper saved from Falcao following a Koke corner. Soon after the restart Andrés was in action again to save from Adrián, and Falcao rounded the keeper only to run out of space. Nekounam fired a shot over the top in reply, and the on-loan Raúl García and Lekic both brought top class saves out of Courtois. But Atlético were not going to lose this one, and they move two points above their opponents after a third win in a row under "El Cholo". Watch out Europe, Atleti are back! (30.01.12)
With the top two once again out of sight, the battle is on for the two remaining Champions League spots. Only one of those gives direct access to the league stage though, and with half of the season gone, Valencia are strong favourites to take it. This Sunday though the Ches had one eye on the upcoming cup semi final with Barcelona, and in the end they were held to a 2-2 draw in a bad-tempered match at Racing Santander. Adrián González put the locals ahead in only the third minute, getting behind the defence to turn in a pass from Munitis, and Stuani came close to extending the lead when he headed against the inside of the post a few minutes later. Jonas brushed the top of the bar though with a long shot shortly before the break, and midway through the second half Aduríz levelled the scores after Tino Costa's corner was headed on. Aduríz got his second of the evening a quarter of an hour later, heading the ball back past Toño after the keeper could only push up a long shot from Ricardo Costa, but Bernardo saved a point for the Cantabrians when he ran in to head home Jaio Samperio's cross with just two minutes to go. A minute later players clashed on the pitch over a possible penalty incident in Valencia's penalty area, Munitis and Ricardo Costa both being shown red cards, and the game ended with Diego Alves making the save of the night from Colsa. Not a game for people of a delicate nature!
Valencia's city neighbours Levante stay fourth for the time being, although a 1-2 defeat against Getafe left them within firing range of the teams below them. New signing Botelho brought an early save out of Moyà, but with just over half an hour on the clock Güiza picked up a long pass to score the opener for the visitors, the striker bundling the ball back in to the net with more than a bit of fortune after Munúa blocked his first shot. Miku tested Munúa again before the interval, but after the restart El Zhar fired an effort just wide and Koné hit the bar with an overhead kick from close to goal. Güiza forced Munúa in to another good save on a quick counter-attack though, and with eight minutes to go Diego Castro made it two, drilling the ball back in to the net after the local keeper saved again from Güiza. Rubén Suárez got an injury time consolation from the penalty spot after Lopo was sent off for blocking Iborra's volley with his upper arm, but it came too late to prevent their second home defeat this season.
There were two Andalusian derbies this Sunday, Granada winning 1-2 at Betis in their mid-day kick-off to move out of the relegation places. Abel Resino was in charge for the first time after Fabri was fired midweek, and he saw his side go ahead early on when Ighalo latched on to a square pass from Carlos Martins to poke a shot past Casto. Beñat and Salva Sevilla fired shots wide at the other end, but with six minutes to go to the break a hesitant keeper let Franco Jara dance round him and set up Martins for the second. After the restart the home side pushed forward, Molina bringing a couple of good saves out of Julio César and Iriney and Pozuelo firing shots wide. But even though Jonathan Pereira got one back after the visiting keeper dropped a Beñat corner at his feet, Granada closed ranks to start off the second half of the season with a win.
Later in the evening Málaga beat Sevilla 2-1 to move ahead of their local rivals and up to seventh. Pellgrini's side srated like a whirlwind, Rondón hitting the crossbar and Javi Varas doing well to tip a Cazorla free kick over the bar before Weligton headed in another wide Cazorla free kick. With a quarter of an hour gone Luna equalised, beating Willy at the second attempt after Negredo had stepped over a long pass from Coke, but four minutes later Málaga were back in the lead after Seba Fernández scrambled the ball in to the net following a good run by Rondón. Isco could have scored a third had Javi Varas not pulled off a first class save soon after the restart, but after that the visitors were on top, Demichelis clearing off the line from Negredo with the keeper beaten, and Coke having a headed goal ruled out for a borderline offside. Málaga ended with ten men after Isco was shown a second yellow card late on, but they have the bragging rights for now.
In between all of that Real Sociedad distanced themselves from the danger zone with a convincing 5-1 victory over Sporting Gijón, a result which left the Asturians down in next to bottom spot and their coach Manolo Preciado facing a difficult few days. Zurutuza put the Basque side off to a flying start with two goals in the opening three minutes, the first with an angled shot from right of goal following Griezmann's high cross, and the second after Carlos Vela put him through. Four minutes later though he was stretchered off with a broken nose after a clash of heads with Gregory, and a minute after the restart the visitors got one back when Miguel De las Cuevas turned Trejo's cross past Bravo. Trejo came close to equalising when he hit the post a few minutes later, but Elustondo got free of his marker to turn in a Vela corner with a quarter of an hour to go, and Aranburu and Griezmann wrapped things up with two more goals in injury time. (29.01.12)
Real Madrid are now seven points clear of rivals Barcelona after coming from behind to beat bottom club Zaragoza 3-1 on Saturday evening. Despite being knocked out of the cup by Barcelona mid-week, their good performance in the Nou Camp gave them renewed confidence, and Ronaldo and Benzema could have scored early. And although Lafita opened the scoring for the visitors in the tenth minute following a quickly taken free kick, Kaká levelled the scores later in the first half after running on to Carvalho's through ball to beat Roberto. A couple of minutes after the restart Özil set up Cristiano Ronaldo to put Madrid ahead, and soon afterwards Özil got the third himself after combining with Granero and Kaká to wrap things up. After that Roberto had to stop Callejón from scoring a fourth, and Postiga came on to cause a few problems for Casillas later on. But a fifteenth league win out of sixteen for Mourinho's side, and although the one they lost was against the old enemy, they have more than made up for it elsewhere.
Barcelona's match at Villarreal followed, but once again Guardiola's side dropped points away from home after they were held to a 0-0 draw. The recent cup matches had taken their toll though, and with only fourteen first team players fit and available, the starting line-up virtually picked itself. With a quarter of an hour on the clock Messi should have scored when he lobbed Diego López only to see his shot roll wide, but Mascherano had to head a high ball off the line at the other end, and Valdés had to save from Marcos Senna a few minutes later. From the resulting corner Gonzalo headed the ball in to the net only to be pulled up for offside, and Busquets was lucky to be let off a penalty appeal when he tussled with Borja Valero soon after the restart. Guardiola made three attacking changes though, and Diego López had to be at his best to push a shot from Fàbregas on to the bar, and then save a couple of times from Messi. No goals in the end though, and a point for Villarreal which keeps them outside of the relegation spots for now.
Earlier in the day Espanyol consolidated fifth spot with a 1-0 victory over Mallorca, a result which takes them level on points with fourth placed Levante pending their game on Sunday. The Catalans had gone five games without defeat, and Rui Fonte brought a good save out of Aouate in the opening minutes. A few minutes later though Weiss got what was to prove the only goal when Aouate dropped the ball at his feet after falling over the midfielder and his own player Pablo Cáceres. It was not the Israeli keeper's night, and two minutes after the restart he was sent off by Iglesias Villanueva for what the referee considered was a foul outside of the area on Rui Fonte, even though he clearly played the ball. Soon afterwards Weiss fired a free kick against the post, and on the rebound Raúl Rodríguez kicked at air with the goal at his mercy. But the ten men rallied in the closing minutes, and only a couple of good stops by Kiko Casilla from Ogunjimi and Chori Castro prevented the visitors from saving a point.
Athletic Bilbao are up to sixth, for 24 hours a least, after a 2-3 win at Rayo Vallecano. Michu volleyed the locals in to the lead in the tenth minute after Tamudo headed on a Trashorras corner but Llorente scored twice in the next twelve minutes to turn the scoreline around, the first a header from an Iñigo Pérez free kick, and the second with an angled shot past Dani Jiménez after controlling a long ball from San José. Arribas made it all square again with less than half an hour gone after Iraizoz could only push out an angled shot from Labaka, and the visiting keeper had to save from Movilla and Michu before the interval. But a few minutes after the restart Llorente brought a good save out of Cobeño, who had just come on to replace the injured Jiménez, and soon afterwards the Spanish international striker got on the end of Toquero's cross to head down past the keeper and complete his hat-trick. (28.01.12)