A bad start for Sevilla's new coach Michel, a 2-0 defeat at Real Sociedad on Monday evening leaving his side just three points off the relegation spots. The locals themselves started the day just a point above the bottom three, but they had the better of things right from the start, with Carlos Vela hitting the bar with just over ten minutes gone. Michel had given Palop a first start this season in goal, and the veteran keeper had to make important saves from Agirretxe, Vela and others to keep the scoreline unmoved at the break. However twenty minutes in to the second half Vela gave the Basque side the lead after Agirretxe headed on Xabi Prieto's cross, and three minutes later the excellent Rubén Pardo made it two with a shot from outside of the area. Sevilla's only reply throughout the ninety minutes was a first half header from Negredo which just cleared the bar, and Palop had to be at his best to keep out Griezmann again near the end. Real move a point above Sevilla in the table, and Michel now knows he has some work to do if his team are to make it back to the European spots this season. (13.02.12)
Real Madrid are looking good for their first title in four years after they beat Levante 4-2 on Sunday evening. There was an early scare when Cabral headed the visitors in to the lead following a Farinós free kick early on, and Casillas had to be on his toes to keep out Iborra later in the first half. But otherwise Madrid dominated, Benzema having a strike ruled out incorrectly for offside and Higuaín bringing a good save out of Munúa before Cristiano Ronaldo equalised from the penalty spot after Iborra picked up a second booking for handling in the area. Ronaldo scored two more in the first ten minutes of the second half to complete a rapid hat-trick, the first with a header from Higuaín's cross, and the second with a dipping shot over the head of the keeper. Koné scored again for Levante, heading in an Oscar Serrano cross on the hour mark, but Benzema restored the two goal cushion just three minutes later, and Özil almost netted a fifth when he burst through only to see his shot come back off the post. With nineteen victories already, Mourinho's side are already breaking the record books, and after Barcelona's defeat yesterday they have opened up a massive ten point gap at the top.
Barcelona's gap over third placed Valencia has been reduced to eight points after the Ches beat Sporting Gijón 4-0 earlier in the evening. Needing a win to get over their midweek cup defeat, Emery lined up with Aduríz and Soldado up front. And Aduríz in particular went close two or three times before Feghouli latched on to Mathieu's cross to fire an impressive shot in off the crossbar. Aduríz and Soldado failed to hit the target either side of half time, and Tino Costa brought the save of the evening out of Juan Pablo with a first time shot soon after the restart. With a quarter of an hour to go Botía could only deflect a wayward shot from Feghouli in to his own net, and Soldado came up against Juan Pablo twice and the bar once in one frenetic attack. With the match coming to an end substitute Jonas scored two more, the first a header from Rami's cross and the second after Soldado put him through, to take his side eight points clear of fourth spot and to leave the Asturians further down in the drop zone.
Levante remain in that fourth position for another week after the teams below them failed to win, fifth placed Espanyol surprisingly beaten 0-2 by bottom club Zaragoza on Sunday lunchtime. Casilla had to save from old boy Luis García early on, but Espanyol's two new boys could have scored after that, Coutinho hitting the post and Roberto stopping Kalu Uche on the follow up, and Uche putting another good chance over the top. Romaric wasted another good opportunity early in the second half, and Coutinho tested Roberto again soon afterwards. But a couple of minutes later Da Silva headed a Luis García corner past Casilla to give the visitors the lead, and although Coutinho hit the bar again, Casilla had to be at his best to keep out Postiga and Lanzaro later on. Roberto saved again from Coutinho as the locals came out looking for the equaliser, but they were caught out by a rapid Micael free kick in injury time, Juan Carlos rounding the keeper to wrap things up. Only a third win for the Maños, but curiously two of those have been against Pochettino's side.
Málaga are up to seventh after a 3-1 win over Mallorca, but they are only one point away from the Champions League spots in a group of six teams all separated by two points. The Andalusians fell behind early on, Pereira latching on to a square Chori Castro free kick to fire a long shot past Willy Caballero. Weligton headed over from a long free kick minutes later though, and soon afterwards Seba Fernández equalised after Aouate could only push out a long shot from Rondón. Castro hit the side netting and Hemed fired a weak shot at Caballero either side of half time, but the locals went in front when Toulalan's shot took a deflection off Chico to wrong foot the keeper. Aouate did well after that to keep out Isco, Sergio Sánchez and Seba, but midway through the second half Rondón picked up a pass from Sergio Sánchez to beat the keeper with a shot on the turn.
Rayo Vallecano beat Getafe 2-0 in the South Madrid derby to move a point above their neighbours in the table. The two teams got off to a nervous start, Piti and Diego Costa giving Moyà a hard time and Lopo going close at the other end following a free kick. With just over half an hour on the clock Michu opened the scoring for the locals after a wide free kick fell to him, referee Alvaro Izquierdo waving away claims for offside, and before the interval Moyà had to turn a Piti free kick round the post. The visitors were left with ten men when Michel was sent off for a hard tackle on Diego Costa on the hour mark, and the striker recovered to head in the second from Movilla's cross three minutes later, again from a clear offside position. Costa and young substitute Diego could have added to the lead after that, but the game, and with it the bragging rights, were already Rayo's.
Villarreal moved out of the relegation spots after a 3-1 victory over Granada, their third win in four games. Marco Rubén had an early strike ruled out for the previous offside of Nilmar, but the striker did get his name on the scoresheet a few minutes later after latching on to Cani's through ball to turn a shot past Julio César. Later in the first half Diego López pushed a header from his namesake Iñigo López on to the post, but Iñigo got the better of Diego a few minutes after the interval, this time his header from a Martins corner finding the bottom near corner of the net. Mikel Rico almost caught out the local keeper with a shot from the half-way line soon afterwards, but Borja Valero restored the lead after controlling a lofted Camuñas pass and firing a first time volley past Julio César. Seven minutes later Julio César himself scored Villarreal's third, his wild punch at Joan Oriol's cross going backwards in to his own net, and although he made up for it in part with a late save from Hernán Pérez, the damage was already done. Granada ended the match with ten men after substitute Diakhaté was sent off for a second bookable offence, and a first defeat under new coach Abel Resino left them a point behind their hosts in the table. (12.02.12)
Although qualifying for the cup final midweek, Barcelona are gradually losing their grip on the league title, and a 3-2 defeat at Osasuna on Saturday evening could leave them ten points behind Real Madrid by the end of the weekend. It was a freezing night in Pamplona, but the crowd soon warmed up when Raúl García put Lekic through to open the scoring in the fifth minute. Alexis was pulled up incorrectly for offside when free on goal, and Andrés pulled off a good save from Messi, but midway through the first half Lekic was there again to connect with Cejudo's cross and make it two. Guardiola had left many of his top names on the bench pending the midweek Champions League game, but even so at half time he left them where they were and brought on Tello and Cuenca. Within five minutes Cuenca had crossed in for Alexis to score, but five minutes after that Raúl García restored the two goal cushion when he turned Nino's cross in off the near post. Tello scored again for Barça, cutting past his marker before curling a shot inside the near post, but Osasuna could have extended the lead again when Puñal fired a shot against the foot of the post. Andrés had to make a couple of top class saves from Tello and Fàbregas after that, and Alexis got the ball in the net only to be ruled out for offside, the referee arguing that Sergi Roberto had intervened in the play. But even a draw wouldn't have been enough for the visitors, and Barça's poor away record this season looks like it is going to cost them the title.
Osasuna's first win of 2012 takes them back up to seventh, ahead now of Athletic Bilbao, who lost 2-1 later in the evening at the hands of Betis. Athletic booked their place in the Copa del Rey final midweek, but they too paid the price of a good cup run, Rubén Castro putting the Andalusians ahead in the tenth minute after Montero and Molina combined to set him up. Javi Martínez headed the equaliser from Susaeta's corner, and Muniain brought a good save out of Fabricio, who was making his first appearance in the Betis goal. But Montero fired a long shot wide at the other end, and then hit the bar after a quick passing move with Molina just before the interval. After the restart it was Rubén Castro's turn to hit the bar, Salva Sevilla's follow up header ruled offside, and Fabricio was in action again to keep out a header from Llorente. Athletic were left with ten men though when Javi Martínez picked up a second booking, and with the game in injury time Nelson (playing his first game of the season after a long injury lay-off) drilled home the winner after Beñat's corner came back out to him.
Bilbao's defeat meant that Atlético Madrid are up to sixth place, despite being held to a 0-0 draw at Racing Santander earlier in the day. Simeone's side must be wondering how they didn't take the three points though after dominating for virtually all the match, and hitting the woodwork two times. The reason though was largely because of Toño, who pulled off a string of excellent saves throughout the game, starting with a point blank header from Falcao early on. Before half time the visiting keeper frustrated Filipe Luis, Adrián and Turan, and Adrián and Turan also fired shots wide. Racing's only reply was a timid penalty appeal for hands by Gabi shortly before the break, and after the restart Adrián González tested Courtois (unbeaten now in six games) for the first and only time. Diego rattled the left post a few minutes later, and then came up against Toño again, Falcao firing the rebound against the right post with the goal at his mercy. And with the game in the dying minutes it was Toño again who made a couple more vital saves from Mario Suárez and Pizzi to give his side another point which takes them out of the bottom three pending Villarreal's match on Sunday. If they escape the drop this year they should build a monument to him! (11.02.12)