Espanyol beat Racing Santander 3-1 in the Monday night game to move above Osasuna to sixth spot. The Cantabrians struck first though, Stuani turning in an Adrián González cross in only the twelfth minute. That was about all they could muster however, and twenty minutes later Pochettino's side were ahead, Verdú firing a long shot over the head of Toño, and Coutinho beating the keeper for a second time after Sergio García's cross came back out to him. Racing were left with ten men when Marcos Gullón picked up a second booking early on in the second half, and although Kennedy added some spice to proceedings, Héctor Moreno wrapped things up with a third goal after Coutinho headed a long corner back in to the six yard box. It was a second defeat for new coach Alvaro Cervera, and his side find themselves even further down in the bottom three. (19.03.12)
Real Madrid's lead over Barcelona was cut back to eight points after Mourinho's side were held to a last minute 1-1 draw by Málaga on Sunday night. The Andalusians had never won in 30 previous visits to the Bernabeu stadium, but they held their own before Benzema headed in a Cristiano Ronaldo cross with ten minutes to go to the break. Caballero did well to save from Ronaldo after the restart, Benzema missed an easy chances after Özil set him up following a good run down the left flank, and Callejón caused some problems for the visiting defence after coming on midway through the second half. But Eliseu just failed to find Van Nistelrooy as Málaga pushed forward near the end, and with the game in injury time Cazorla saved a point for the visitors with a spectacular free kick. The result ended Madrid's run of eleven wins in a row in the league.
Málaga drop out of the Champions League spots to fifth though, level on points with Levante, who moved back up to fourth after a 1-0 victory over Villarreal earlier in the day. It was a typical tense derby, and there were virtually no chances until the second half, when Valdo and Koné shot wide and Xavi Torres had a goal disallowed for a borderline offside. Villarreal didn't trouble Munúa until late on, when Nilmar kicked the ball out of the keeper's hands and ran it in to the net only to be pulled up by the referee, but the game appeared to be heading for a draw until Marchena gave away a free kick outside of the area and got himself sent off for a second yellow card in to the bargain. Rubén Suárez's shot hit the post, but Torres turned it in to the net as the rebound bounced along the goal-line. The defeat signalling the end for coach Molina, who was sacked a few hours after the game ended.
Levante's city rivals Valencia stay six points clear in third spot though after beating Athletic Bilbao 0-3 in their San Mamés stadium. With Llorente aggravating his injury in the win against Manchester United and Toquero suspended, Athletic were left without an orthodox striker, and although they set up several attacks there was no-one there to finish off. The Ches had Soldado though, and with four minutes to go to the break he intercepted a poor San José back pass and ran round Iraizoz to open the scoring. Twelve minutes in to the second half he scored a second after Jordi Alba laid the ball back, and although Iraizoz kept him out a couple of times in the next few minutes, he did finally get his hat-trick from the penalty spot after San José blocked Parejo's shot with his arm. Bielsa's side ended with ten men after Iraola picked up a second booking, and the defeat leaves them two points off the European spots.
Athletic and Valencia could meet in the Europa League final, but Valencia could still have to play Atlético Madrid before that after Friday's draw set up a possible semi-final meeting between the two Liga sides. Atlético paid the price for their efforts midweek though, and they are now a point behind Athletic after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Mallorca. Both sides had chances before the break, but the locals went two up in the first five minutes of the second half, Godín deflecting a wayward shot from Chori Castro in to his own net, and Pereira beating Courtois for a second time after Víctor set him up two minutes later. Three minutes after that Ramis got himself sent off for smothering Falcao's shot on the line with his hands, and although Aouate saved Falcao's spot kick, the Colombian striker did get one back a few minutes later with an impressive shot in off the crossbar. (18.03.12)
Barcelona threw down the challenge once again to their arch-rivals Real Madrid, a 0-2 victory at Sevilla on Saturday evening reducing the gap to seven points pending Madrid's game on Sunday. The visit to the Sánchez Pizjuán stadium was one of the most difficult fixtures they had left this season, but Adriano and Pedro went close before Xavi opened the scoring with a well struck free kick which Palop got a hand to but could not stop entering the net. And with less than half an hour on the clock Guardiola's side went two up, Messi picking up Iniesta's through ball and nutmegging Spahic before chipping a delightful shot over the keeper, another bit of magic from the little man. The locals could have got one back soon afterwards, Manu del Moral getting in front of Piqué to head against the post, and Kanouté bringing a good save out of Valdés. But Palop had to be at his best to keep out Pedro and Fàbregas before the break, and after the restart Inieista broke through only to chip a shot just wide of the post. Manu caused some problems for Valdés after that, but Barça could have won by a bigger margin in the end had substitute Alexis been able to beat Palop late on.
Earlier in the day Osasuna moved up to fifth spot after a 1-1 draw at bottom club Zaragoza. Honours were shared in the first 45 minutes, with Roberto saving from Damià and Roversio, and Postiga heading a Luis García free kick against the crossbar. Lafita fired a shot across goal and then hit the bar again either side of half time, and after having the better of the second half, the locals took the lead when Postiga picked up a pass from Apoño before firing a long shot wide of Andrés Fernández. Zaragoza's joy only lasted a couple of minutes however before Roversio headed the equaliser following Cejudo's corner, leaving Manolo Jiménez's side even closer to a return to the second division after three seasons back in the top flight.
Rayo Vallecano are just two points behind Osasuna in eighth spot after a 3-0 victory over Betis in the last game of the evening. After their heavy defeat at Espanyol last weekend, Sandoval's side were looking to bounce back, and only some good saves by Fabricio, in particular from Michu and Diego Costa, kept the scores level at the break. Five minutes after the restart though Armenteros ran on to Diego Costa's through ball to open the scoring, and Fabricio had to keep out Piti again before Diego Costa headed the second from a wide Trashorras free kick later in the second half. The visitors had only got near Joel's goal with a couple of speculative efforts from Molina and Santa Cruz, and with the game coming to an end Tamudo collected a long pass from Trashorras and ran on to wrap things up with an angled shot.
Getafe are not out of the running for the European spots either after a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad took them to within four points of sixth spot. Most of the chances in the first half fell to the visitors, with Illarra and Griezmann shooting just wide and Moyà keeping out a Zurutuza header. But Miku had the best of the lot when he got free in front of goal only to shoot over the bar, and Valera and Alexis both went close either side of half time. Carlos Vela tested Moyà again after the restart, but with ten minutes to go Bravo came out to Abdel's cross and only managed to push the ball against Iñigo Martínez, who deflected it back in to his own net under pressure from Güiza. Getafe move three points clear of the Basque side, who still have some work to do to avoid problems at the end of the season.
Further down the table, Granada distanced themselves from the danger zone after beating Sporting Gijón 2-1. Martins gave the Andalusians the lead in only the second minute, catching Juan Pablo out with a wide free kick which went through a gap in the defensive wall. And midway through the second half Siqueira made it two after running on to a Dani Benítez through ball before steering a shot past the keeper. Sporting's only reply was a header wide by Barral, but early in the second half Benítez hit the bar, and Uche stuck a rebound in to the net after Juan Pablo saved from Mikel Rico only to be ruled out for offside. Trejo should have scored a few minutes later when he shot straight at Julio César with the goal at his mercy, and when Colunga did beat the keeper with an impressive lob it was too late to prevent a defeat which left Javier Clemente's side seven points adrift of their opponents in the rankings. (17.03.12)