Monday night's game between Osasuna and Málaga ended in a 1-1 draw, a result which kept the visitors in fourth spot, but left the home side out of the top seven for the first time since week 24. The visitors started strongly, Andrés having to keep out Joaquín with less than a minute on the clock and Rondón heading another chance wide. Kameni did well to keep out Puñal following a corner and Timor headed a long cross over the bar, but with the first half coming to a close Monreal came closest to scoring when he fired a shot against the post. Soon after the restart Kameni was in action again to save from Cejudo, but he could do nothing a couple of minutes later when Nino got behind the defence to head Cejudo's cross in to the net. Pellegrini turned to Van Nistelrooy, who headed wide soon after coming on, and a few minutes later Cazorla picked up the ball outside of the area and struck an impressive shot past Andrés to equalise. That gave Málaga the initiative, but although Camacho headed against the bar and Cazorla went close, the locals held on for a valuable point. (23.04.12)
Valencia clocked up a confidence boosting 4-0 win against Betis on Sunday evening to consolidate their third spot in the table. Jonas put the Ches ahead early on after running on to headed return pass from Soldado, and Canales came close to a second when he fired a shot against the foot of the post later in the first half. Betis's only reply was a couple of efforts from Beñat, and after Rami had a headed goal ruled out for a borderline offside, Feghouli got on the end of a Canales cross to make it two. By then the visitors were down to ten men after Dorado was sent off for a foul on Feghouli, and the Andalusians were to end the game with nine after Jorge Molina was also red-carded for insulting a linesman. But before that Valencia added two more for what was in the end a flattering result, Piatti crossing in for Soldado to charge down Paulao's attempted clearance on the near post, and Piatti himself taking advantage of a hesitant defence to run through and score the fourth. Just the result they needed prior to Thursday's Europa League semi-final second leg, but Emery's priority right now is to tie up that third place.
Valencia's opponents in next Thursday's game are Atlético Madrid, who moved up to seventh after beating Espanyol 3-1 earlier in the day. The two teams started the match level on points, but the locals went in front in the ninth minute when Godín headed Diego's corner down past Cristian Alvarez. Ten minutes later Didac levelled the scores for Pochettino's side after Sergio García laid the ball across from the right, and soon afterwards Romaric fired a free kick against the post. But Falcao went close a couple of times either side of half time, and Alvarez had to save from Salvio and Godín after the interval. And with an hour on the clock two goals from Arda Turan put the game beyond Espanyol's reach, the first an acrobatic scissors kick from Juanfran's cross, and the second an individualist run which ended with his shot hitting the near post and spinning past Courtois in to the net.
Athletic Bilbao will also be in action on Thursday, and they are now sixth after a 0-1 win at bottom club Racing Santander. With one eye on that midweek match, Bielsa left Llorente on the bench at the start. But his replacement Toquero proved his worth, running on to Ander's pass to open the scoering with only twelve minutes on the clock. Adrián González and Munitis fired shots wide in reply, but Toquero should have scored when he rounded the keeper only to tread on the ball with the goal gaping in front of him, and Susaeta also fired a shot straight at the keeper from a couple of yards out later in the first half. Llorente came on at the break and saw a shot deflected wide, but as the Basque side tired their opponents came close to equalising, Iraizoz having to save from Acosta and Diop late on.
Racing are only a point away from being relegated though after results earlier in the day went against them. Granada won 1-0 against Getafe, a result which takes the Andalusians eight points away from the drop zone with only four games to go. The visitors were looking for points themselves though to keep up their push for the European spots, and Pedro Ríos tested Julio César early on. A few minutes later though Jara ran on to a Carlos Martíns through ball to score, and Dani Benítez came close to a second with a couple of dangerous free kicks after the restart which Moyà had some problems keeping out. Diego Costa curled a shot just wide at the other end, but Granada could have won by a bigger margin in the end had Geijo and Benítez taken their chances in the dying minutes.
Villarreal are also inching their way to safety, a 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad taking them six points above Sporting and Zaragoza in the table. For the second week in a row though they threw away a possible victory late on, Carlos Vela saving a point for the Basque side with an overhead kick after Xabi Prieto headed back Griezmann's cross with five minutes left to go. Prieto had rattled the post midway through the first half, but Marcos Senna put the visitors in front shortly before half time with a low shot after a defender headed Català's cross in to his path. Marco Rubén and Cani both missed good chances to extend the lead after the break, but Griezmann and Vela could both have won it for the hosts near the end. (22.04.12)
Real Madrid are all but mathematical league champions this season after a 1-2 victory at Barcelona on Saturday evening! Those who were expecting a spectacular match though would have been disappointed, this was a dour encounter between a Madrid serious and unyielding in defence, and a Barça team looking tired and lacking the spark we are so used to seeing in recent years. Both keepers were in action early on, Valdés tipping a Cristiano Ronaldo header over the bar and Casillas saving at the feet of Dani Alves. The visitors took the lead with just over quarter of an hour on the clock after Pepe headed an Özil corner towards goal, Valdés getting a hand to the ball but Puyol unable to clear before Khedira stuck out a foot and poked it in to the net. Casillas did well to deflect a shot from Xavi round the post before the break (although the referee gave a goal kick), and after the restart Tello, a surprise inclusion in Guardiola's starting line-up, fired a shot over the top after Thiago put him through. Ronaldo, Benzema and Özil were causing some problems for the Barcelona defence, but with twenty minutes to go Alexis equalised just a minute or so after coming on, beating Casillas at the second attempt after Pedro and Adriano had shots blocked. Just three minutes later though Ronaldo ran on to Özil's through ball to restore the lead, and Benzema and Ronaldo could both have added to the scoreline after that. The win takes Madrid seven points clear of their arch-rivals, and with only four games left to go the title race is virtually over.
Later in the evening fifth placed Levante held Sevilla to a 1-1 draw in the Sánchez Pizjuán stadium, a result which keeps the Valencia based side three points ahead of their opponents in the table. At the start of the match disgruntled fans threw tennis balls on to the pitch to register their displeasure about a thirty minute delay to the kick off time due to post-match TV coverage of the Barcelona - Madrid game, a decision which meant this game finished after midnight. They did have an entertaining time however, with Cala heading wide before Negredo got on the end of Navarro's cross to open the scoring in the twentieth minute. Eight minutes later though Valdo and Barkero combined to put Koné through to equalise against his old club, and the Ivory Coast striker came close to a second when he fired a shot over the bar close to half time. The locals rallied after the interval, Cabral clearing off the line from Manu with the keeper beaten, and Trochowski shooting just wide. Koné brought a good save out of Javi Varas, but with five minutes to go Sevilla had the best possible chance to go ahead when they were awarded a penalty after Javi Venta pulled down Reyes in the area. Munúa guessed correctly however to save Negredo's spot kick, leaving the Andalusians outside of the European places for another week at least.
Elsewhere Sporting Gijón kept their slim hopes of survival alive with a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano. Javier Clemente's side started strongly, Sangoy bringing a good save out of Joel before opening the scoring following a corner in the eighteenth minute, the Argentinian striker eventually managing to run the ball in to the net after the keeper had pushed out a previous shot. Diego Costa came close to levelling the scores when he rounded Juan Pablo only to steer his shot wide of the target, and although Sangoy rattled the crossbar with a free kick minutes after the restart, Labaka made it all square after a Trashorras free kick fell to him close to goal. Labaka blotted his copybook with a quarter of an hour to go though when he was sent off for bringing down Bilic, and two minutes later Bilic himself restored the lead with a well struck free kick. Four minutes from the end Rayo were left with ten men when Casado was also sent off for a second bookable offence, but even so there was a late scare for the home fans when Bravo had to make the save of the day from Delibasic.
Sporting are now level in the table with Zaragoza, who were beaten 1-0 at the same time by Mallorca. It was a game of few chances, with Postiga heading wide for the visitors and Chico having a goal ruled out at the other end for a questionable offside. With ten minutes to go to the interval however Víctor Casadesús got above the defence to head a Chori Castro corner inside the near post, and Castro came close to a second when he headed wide early on in the second half. With the game in the final minutes Postiga fired another shot just wide of the post, and Lanzaro had a penalty appeal turned down. A win though for the islanders which ensures their place in the top flight for another season, and the players celebrated as if they had just won the cup. It was a setback for Zaragoza though, and they really need to pick up at least ten points from their last four games if they are to play Mallorca again next year. (21.04.12)