Bottom club Zaragoza are a step closer to the second division after they lost 0-2 to Betis in the Monday night game. With both sides needing points the match got off to a lively start, Roberto saving at point blank range from Jorge Molina and Dorado heading off the line from Luis García with the keeper beaten. Micael and Lafita also tried their luck, but with four minutes to go to the break Rubén Castro ran on to Paulao's lofted pass to curl a shot past the local keeper and give the visitors the lead. Zaragoza just about gave up after that, and Rubén Castro and Salva Sevilla both had shots blocked before Castro netted his second after Roberto could only push out an effort from Molina. With a quarter of the game still to go many disappointed fans left the Romareda stadium, and the only thing they missed was a shot against the bar from Sevilla late on. The Maños ended the day eleven points away from safety, and they need a near miracle if they are to stay up this year. (20.02.12)
Barcelona showed that it is dangerous to write them off too early after they thrashed third placed Valencia 5-1 in the last match on Sunday, keeping the gap behind Real Madrid to ten points. There were some doubts when Piatti gave the visitors the lead from Feghouli's cross with less than ten minutes gone. But Messi scored twice in a five minute period midway through the first half to turn the scoreline around, the first from the tightest of angles after Pedro's shot had been blocked, and the second from a yard out after Diego Alves had stopped his first effort. After that it was one way traffic, the visiting keeper having to save from Alexis and Cesc Fàbregas, and Fàbregas hitting the crossbar with an acrobatic overhead kick. It was more of the same in the second half, Alves keeping out Alexis and Fàbregas and then pushing a Messi header on to the bar, and Fàbregas missing an easy chance after Alves had saved again from Montoya. Feghouli did test Valdés at the other end, but with a quarter of an hour to go Messi completed his hat-trick after Alves blocked another effort from substitute Tello. That took the pressure off, and Messi and Xavi added two more before the final whistle to take Barça eleven points clear of the Ches in the table. Second place at least looks safe for now.
Valencia stay comfortably in third spot, but there is a right royal scrap for the rest of the European positions, with no less than seven teams separated by two points (there should be an extra Europa League spot for seventh place with Barça and Athletic Bilbao in the cup final). Athletic themselves edged Espanyol out of fourth spot after a 3-0 victory over Málaga, with all three goals coming in a five minute period midway through the second half. After a gruelling few weeks of cup competition, Bielsa left some of his key players on the bench. But the visitors dominated the first half, Iraizoz having to save from Rondón, Cazorla and Isco, and Seba and Cazorla shooting wide, and at half time the coach decided to bring on Llorente and Amorebieta. That did the trick, Amorebieta opening the scoring thirteen minutes in to the second half after San José's shot was blocked following a Toquero corner. Just a couple of minutes later San José headed in another Toquero corner, and a minute after that Toquero himself got in on the act with an impressive volley after Ander Herrera lifted the ball over from the by-line. Enough for a win which takes the Basque side two points ahead of their opponents in the table, and now they have to concentrate on next Thursday's Europa League qualifier.
Atlético Madrid moved up to sixth after a 1-1 draw at Sporting Gijón, a first point for Sporting's new manager Javier Clemente, who took over from caretaker coach Tejada midweek. He had Juan Pablo to thank in large part though, the keeper's early stop from Falcao the first of a string of saves. Godín headed the resulting corner over the top from close up, but a few minutes later the visitors went ahead when Canella turned Adrián's wayward shot past his own keeper. Gregory headed a free kick wide at the other end before Eguren equalised after Botía played on Colunga's cross, the first league goal that Courtois has let in since the arrival of Diego Simeone. But Juan Pablo saved the day again from Adrián, and Diego missed a good chance to restore the lead when he shot wide on the stroke of half time. After the interval Atlético continued to dominate, Gabi shooting just wide and Juan Pablo keeping out Falcao and Salvio. However the Asturians didn't give up, and they could have sneaked the three points had Courtois not kept out Colunga late on.
Levante drop from fourth to seventh after they lost an eight goal thriller 3-5 to Rayo Vallecano. The Valencia based side have not won since the start of 2012, and they fell behind ten minutes before the break when Lass picked up Movilla's long ball to beat Munúa. Barkero equalised with a questionable penalty after Pulido tripped Ghezzal on the edge (just outside?) of the area four minutes after the break, and Joel did well to keep out Koné soon afterwards. But Diego Costa scored twice in a minute around the hour mark, the first a header following a corner and the second from a Lass cross, and although Joel had to save again from Koné, and Koné and Ghezzal rattled the woodwork on the follow up, Lass headed Rayo's fourth a few minutes later. Rubén Suárez got another one back and Delibasic responded with the visitors' fifth, and Suárez scored his second of the evening from the penalty spot at the end. A great win for Rayo though, and they too are now in the race for the European places, now just a point behind their opponents in the table.
Mallorca are only four points off the top six as well after a convincing 4-0 win over old enemy Villarreal. The islanders were particularly motivated against the team who replaced them in the Europe League last year, and Ramis and Nunes went close before Víctor Casadesús got on the end of Chori Castro's free kick to head the first shortly before half time. Martí headed a second following another Chori Castro free kick a few minutes in to the second half, and Castro was again instrumental in the next two goals, the first a through ball for Casadesús to score his second of the day, and the second a corner two minutes later which Nunes headed back past Diego López. The defeat left Villarreal once again just one place above the relegation spots.
Real Sociedad are just a point ahead of Villarreal in the table after a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Granada on Sunday lunchtime. The Basque side started the game two points above their hosts in the table, and they seemed to be on track to distance themselves further when Mikel González headed in Illarramendi's cross following a short corner in the tenth minute. However just a minute later Iñaki López headed in Mikel Rico's cross to equalise, and López almost helped himself to a second from a Martins free kick minutes later. With the first half coming to a close Real were left with ten men when Illarramendi was sent off for kicking Franco Jara from behind, and Jara put the home side ahead when he cut in from the left wing to beat Bravo ten minutes after the restart. Substitute Uche made it three after Mikel Rico's cross was deflected to him, and although numbers were evened up after Siqueira picked up a second booking, Uche wrapped things up with his second of the day after Bravo could only push out a shot from Jara. (19.02.12)
Another big win for Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, Mourinho's side beating Racing Santander 4-0 on Saturday evening to increase their lead at the top to 13 points pending Barcelona's game against Valencia on Sunday. Cristiano Ronaldo headed against the post from Kaká's corner before opening the scoring in the sixth minute, heading the ball in on the far post after Kaká headed across. Racing's only reply was a wide Diop free kick which Casillas dealt with comfortably, and the Cantabrians were left with ten men when Cisma was shown a rigorous second yellow card after Ronaldo's cross brushed his arm. That ended any hope of resistance, and Benzema made it two on the stroke of half time after Xabi Alonso put him through. Di María came on in the second half for his first appearance after a long injury lay-off, and within ten minutes he had his name on the scoresheet after cutting in from the right wing to beat Toño with an angled shot. And Benzema rounded things off with his second of the night after Toño had saved from Di María to make it 18 league wins in the last 19 games. The one they lost was of course against Barça, but with such a big gap between the two sides that doesn't hurt as much now as it did back then.
Earlier in the evening Espanyol moved up to fourth spot after a 1-1 draw at Getafe. The Catalans had the better chances in an entertaining first half, Romaric and Weiss going close with a couple of free kicks, and Romaric firing a shot wide with the goal at his mercy after Moyà had saved from Coutinho. Getafe's best chance in the first 45 minute was a shot just wide of the post by Güiza, and Miku brought a good save out of Kiko Casilla with a header soon after the restart. Midway through the second half substitute Alvaro Vázquez beat the offside trap to collect a long ball from Héctor Moreno and open the scoring, but just four minutes later Miku equalised from the penalty spot after Thievy pulled back the Venezuelan striker. Casilla had to be at his best after that to keep out Güiza and Gavilán, but even though Espanyol had to play the last ten minutes with a man less after Galán picked up a second booking, Pochettino's side held on for the point they needed to overtake Levante.
Sevilla got their first win in nine games in the last match on Saturday, a 2-0 victory over Osasuna getting Michel off to a good start in the Sánchez Pizjuán stadium. The Andalusians looked a different side under their new coach, and Kanouté went close before Negredo laid the ball back for Medel to beat Andrés with a low shot from outside of the area on the quarter hour mark. Rakitic and Reyes also tried their luck, and the visitors only got close to Palop's goal with a header wide from Nekounam shortly before half time. Both keepers had work to do in the second half, Palop in particular saving twice from half time substitute Lamah. Babá fired a shot wide at the other end, but with the game in injury time Trochowski got on the end of a Jesús Navas cross to lift the ball over Andrés and wrap things up. Sevilla move back to within two points of their opponents in the table, and the relieved fans were dancing on the terraces at the end. (18.02.12)