Real Madrid are the new league champions after they beat Athletic Bilbao 0-3 on Wednesday night! Barcelona had prolonged the wait after they won their game earlier in the evening, but with only ten minutes gone Mourinho's side were awarded a penalty after Javi Martínez blocked a Ramos header with his upraised arms. And although Iraizoz deflected Cristiano Ronaldo's tame spot kick over the bar, Higuaín opened the scoring a few minutes later after picking up a pass from Özil and turning his marker before firing a long shot past the keeper. Athletic felt themselves hard done by when referee José Antonio Teixeira Vitienes turned down a penalty appeal when the ball hit Khedira's outstretched arm, and soon afterwards Özil got on the end of Ronaldo's cross to make it two. Later in the first half Casillas had to be at his best to fist out an Ibai Gómez free kick, San José's follow up shot taking a deflection off Higuaín on to the crossbar, and Özil fired a shot against the bar at the other end in reply. Ronaldo's frustrations were eased when he headed Madrid's third from Özil's corner five minutes after the restart, although Iraizoz was to deny him again near the end, and with Messi scoring a hat-trick he is now two behind his rival for the top goalscorers prize. Casillas was called upon again to tip an effort from De Marcos on to the bar once again, but any hopes that Bielsa's side had of a comeback ended when Javi Martínez was shown a rigorous second yellow card with twenty minutes to go. Athletic's remote hope of a Champions League spot has now gone, and they will be concentrating now on their two cup finals. Tonight was Madrid's night though, and after three years of finishing second, the celebrations will go on longer than ever.
The win keeps Madrid seven points ahead of Barcelona, who had kept up the fight to the end with a 4-1 victory over Málaga. Coming a few days after Guardiola announced he will be handing over to his assistant Tito Vilanova next season, it was an emotive night in the Nou Camp, with the crowd chanting their manager's name throughout. . There was an early scare when Duda hit Pinto's far post with a free kick, but a few minutes later Messi and Iniesta combined following a corner to set up Puyol for the opener. Midway through the first half Rondón got on the end of a Jesús Gámez cross to head past Pinto and level the scores, but ten minutes later Barça were awarded a dubious penalty when Gámez brought down Iniesta as he was entering the area, and Messi stepped up to drill home the resulting spot kick. A quarter of an hour in to the second half referee Turienzo Alvarez gave Messi a second penalty when he was brought down from behind by Duda. And after converting that one as well, he went on to complete his hat-trick when he ran on to Iniesta's pinpoint pass to lift the ball over the advancing Kameni and run it in to the net. It was another landmark for the little man, his 68th of the season setting a new European record. There was still time for Van Nistelrooy to test Pinto a couple of times, but Málaga had lost this one, and they still have some work to do to maintain that fourth Champions League spot.
Third placed Valencia took advantage of Málaga's defeat to move three points clear of the Andalusians after a 4-0 win over Osasuna. The visitors came to the Mestalla stadium looking got a good result to strengthen their claim for a Europa League spot, and honours were traded in a first half in which Nekounam and Lekic tested Guaita early on, Jordi Alba and Jonas went close for the locals. With the half time whistle approaching though, Lekic was sent off following an off-the-ball incident with Rami, and Osasuna were forced to defend after that. They could only hold on though until a quarter of an hour from the end, when Aduríz got on the end of Jordi Alba's cross to head past Andrés. That opened the floodgates, and a few minutes later Jonas got on the end of a cross from the right to make it two. A second goal from Aduríz followed after another good cross from Alba, and Jonas got his second of the night as well after the visiting keeper could only push out a shot from Aduríz. A flattering result in the end, but Valencia are now sure of one of the four Champions League spots. Whether that be third or fourth remains to be seen.
The teams immediately below the top four all failed to win though, with Levante staying in fifth place despite a 1-0 defeat at Zaragoza. The Maños needed to win to keep alive their hopes of staying up, and Lafita brought a good save out of Munúa before Edu Oriol latched on to a loose clearance by Cabral to open the scoring in the tenth minute. Apoño fired a free kick wide, but for the rest of the first half the visitors came back at their hosts, Botelho and Valdo failing to hit the target and Roberto saving from Iborra's header. Munúa had to deal with a dangerous Luis García free kick after the restart, and Levante caused some problems from a couple of late corners, but Manolo Jiménez's team held fast for a second win in a row which takes them within three points of safety.
Sixth placed Atlético Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Real Sociedad, and with five points between them and Málaga, their hopes of a return to Champions League are fading. The long season though is starting to take its toll, and they were only a able to manage a couple of efforts off target by Mario Suárez and Arda Turan in the first forty five minutes. Real themselves still needed a point to be mathematically sure of staying up, and Illarramendi and Agirretxe went close either side of half time. And although Gabi put the locals ahead with an impressive shot from outside of the area, the midfielder got himself sent off soon afterwards after picking up a second booking for a high kick on Carlos Martínez. Courtois saved from Ifrán as the visitors came looking for a goal, and with the game in injury time the keeper and Juanfran were caught ball watching by Agirretxe, who poked the ball between them for Carlos Vela to equalise.
Sevilla meanwhile were beaten 1-2 by Betis, who are now level with their city neighbours in the table. Michel's team got off to a good start, Negredo latching on to Trochowski's pass to thrash a shot past Fabricio in the fifth minute before having a second strike ruled out for offside, and Fazio heading another chance wide. However Betis recovered later in the first half, and with two minutes to go to the break Beñat levelled the scores with a free kick from left of the area which went in off the far post. Manu and Negredo went close for the locals after the restart, with Rubén Castro in particular trying his luck at the other end. But with the game in injury time Medel was given a second yellow card for jostling as Betis lined up a dangerous free kick, and once things quietened down Beñat cleverly fired his shot under the leaping defenders in to the back of the net.
All of that meant that Mallorca are up to seventh after a 1-0 win over Rayo Vallecano, and the two remaining Europa League spots are still wide open. Rayo themselves were looking to pick up points after a run of four defeats in a row, and they totally dominated the first half, with Michu shooting just wide, Tamudo hitting the post and Aouate having to make a string of saves. After the interval though the islanders regained control, and with an hour on the clock Chori Castro ran on to Tomás Pina's through ball to steer a shot past Cobeño. Diego Costa had a penalty appeal turned down soon afterwards, but Alfaro, Castro and Hemed all could have added to the lead later on. Rayo's defeat means that they are still in the struggle to avoid the drop, and the last two relegation places will be disputed over the next two weekends between Sporting (34 points), Zaragoza (37), Rayo (40), Villarreal (41) and Granada (42). (02.05.12)
Villarreal took a massive step towards safety after a 2-3 win at Sporting Gijón on Tuesday evening. Miguel Angel Lotina's side started the day just four points ahead of the Asturians in the table, and a defeat would have dragged them down in to the relegation struggle. But with twenty minute on the clock Mario got free in front of goal, and although Juan Pablo kept him out, the full back picked up the rebound and crossed in for Bruno to score. Sporting felt they should have had a penalty when Jaume Costa handled in the area, and a few minutes later Lora equalised with a shot from outside of the area. However with the first half coming to a close referee Del Cerro Grande awarded a penalty to the visitors after Gregory brought down Marco Rubén, and Marcos Senna stepped up to fire home the spot kick. Soon after the restart Hernán Pérez hit the post, and a couple of minutes later the Paraguayan forward made it three with another long shot which also hit the upright before bouncing in to the net. Gálvez closed the gap again with five minutes to go though after Zapata could only head a high ball in to his path to set up a frenetic finish in which local coach Javier Clemente and Villarreal's reserve keeper César were shown red cards, but the visitors held on to virtually ensure their place in the top flight for another season.
Sporting are almost certainly down though, especially after Granada beat Espanyol 2-1 earlier in the evening to move eight points clear of the drop zone. The Andalusians got off to a lively start, Cristian Alvarez having to save from Benítez, Ighalo and Martins in the first ten minutes. Espanyol responded with a header just over from Forlín and a long shot from Romaric which Julio César tipped over the bar. But with the visitors starting to get on top Ighalo struck twice in five minutes, turning in crosses from Franco Jara and Mikel Rico. Didac got one back, beating the keeper with a long shot, and there were chances after for both sides, Alvarez keeping out a deflected shot from Iñigo López, and Julio César pushing a Rui Fonte header over the top. A much needed win for Granada before a difficult end to the season, but a third defeat in a row for the Catalans which scuppers their possibilities of reaching the European spots this year.
Getafe's challenge for the top six is all but over as well after they could only draw 1-1 with the already relegated Racing Santander in the mid-day kick-off. Diop missed a first half penalty for the Cantabrians after Alexis kicked Acosta in the area, and Moyà had to be on his toes to save an Alvaro header shortly before the break. The locals had only tested Mario once in the first half with a long shot by Casquero, but ten minutes in to the second half Miku put them ahead from the penalty spot after Diop tripped the Venezuelan striker inside the area. Diop made up for his mistakes however with the equaliser six minutes later, and although Mario had to keep out a long shot from Pedro León, Bernardo and Diop both had chances to win it for the visitors near the end. (01.05.12)