Two matches on Monday evening this week, with Betis moving level on points with fourth placed Málaga after a 0-1 victory at Celta. In keeping with most of the matches this weekend, chances in the first half were few and far between, the best a long shot by Iago Aspas just wide if the post. Javi Varas had to be on his toes after the break to keep out a couple of efforts from Salva Sevilla and a wide free kick by Beñat, and Iago Aspas and Rubén Castro both went close after that. The only goal though came with ten minutes to go, Jorge Molina picking up Nacho's cross and beating Varas with a shot on the turn. That set up a frenetic last ten minutes as the Galicians threw everything forward, Augusto firing a shot over the top from close range, Adrián keeping out a Túñez header and Bermejo forcing his way past the keeper only to shoot against the post. It was not to be however, and after four home games without a win Paco Herrera's side find themselves just two points above the drop zone.
Just up the road Deportivo were held to a 0-0 draw by Valladolid earlier in the evening, a result which takes Djukic's side up to eighth spot, and leaves their hosts still languishing at the bottom of the table. After letting in six last weekend, José Luis Oltra decided to change his goalkeeper, and the new man Lux put in his claim for more first team football with a series of saves, including a double stop from Oscar midway through the first half. His opposite number Dani Hernández was just as good though, keeping out Bruno Gama early on and Riki later in the first half, and both goalkeepers were called upon again several times in the second half. Probably the easiest chance of the lot though fell to Salomao near the end, the Portuguese winger turning Laure's centre over the crossbar from only a yard out. But in the end honours were shared, and although Depor did improve, at least in defence, a sixth game without a win left them at the foot of the pile. (17.12.12)
Still less than half-way through the season, but Barcelona took a big step towards tying up the league title after a 4-1 victory over second placed Atlético Madrid, a result which takes then nine points clear of Simeone's side. The visitors put up a good fight for the first half hour, Falcao heading against the post and then shooting just wide before running on to a Diego Costa pass open the scoring. But five minutes later Adriano cut in from the right wing to curl an impressive shot in off the crossbar, and with the first half coming to a close Busquets put the locals ahead, making space to fire a shot in to the roof of the net after Xavi's corner fell kindly to him. Up to that point Messi's only contribution had been a free kick over the top, but twelve minutes in to the second half he picked up an Alexis pass and fired a low shot wide of Courtois to make it three. And after Iniesta had brought a good save out of the keeper, the Argentinian forward intercepted an attempted back-heel pass by Godín to run on and lift a shot over Courtois for his side's fourth, taking his own personal tally for the calendar year to 90 goals.
Barça were also given a helping hand by their city neighbours Espanyol, who held third placed Real Madrid to a 2-2 draw in the Bernabeu stadium earlier in the evening. Although they lined up without an orthodox striker, Mourinho's side created the early chances, Ronaldo and Modric shooting just wide, Pepe heading at keeper Kiko Casilla and Modric drilling another shot against the post. However Simao and Sergio García went close for the visitors, and with half an hour gone Sergio García ran on to Verdú's through ball to fire an angled shot past Casillas. Madrid turned the scoreline around with strikes either side of half time by Ronaldo and Coentrao, the first from Khedira's long cross, and the second after Ronaldo played a reverse pass in to his path, and only a string of first class saves from Casilla prevented Arbeloa, Di María and Özil from increasing the lead. However with two minutes to go Albín made it all square again after Héctor Moreno headed Simao's corner over to him, leaving Madrid a daunting thirteen points behind Barcelona in the table.
The day kicked off with a repeat of the midweek cup tie between Zaragoza and Levante, but this time it was the Valencia based side's turn to win 0-1 away from home, a result which takes them back up to fifth spot. Juan Ignacio Martínez's team had won all four of their Sunday mid-day kick-offs this season, and once again they took the initiative early on, with Barkero firing a shot against the post before Rubén García got on the end of Michel's pass to turn a shot past Roberto. Before that though David Navarro was lucky to get off scot-free when he caught Sapunaru with an elbow inside the penalty area, but otherwise the locals hardly managed an effort on goal in the first 45 minutes, and only a great save by Roberto prevented Martins from heading in a second. After the restart the locals did start to carve out a few chances, but Edu Oriol, Paco Montañés and Helder Postiga all failed to hit the target, and although the visitors were left with ten men when Lell picked up a second booking, there was no time left for the Maños to take advantage.
Levante's city neighbours Valencia were beaten 0-1 by Rayo Vallecano though, a first defeat for new coach Ernesto Valverde since taking over from Pellegrino a couple of weeks ago. The Ches were the better team in the first half, with Piatti, Rami, Jonas, Guardado and Ricardo Costa all going close. Rayo replied with a couple of dangerous free kicks by Trashorras and Chori Domínguez, but after the interval Cobeño had to be at his best to keep out Tino Costa and Jonas, the keeper injuring himself in an action in the goalmouth and having to be replaced by Rubén. Gradually though Valencia ran out of steam, and with ten minutes to go a shot by Trashorras was deflected just wide of the post. And just three minutes later Tino Costa gave away an unnecessary penalty on Trashorras, Chori Domínguez stepping up to fire home the resulting spot kick against his old club. A much needed win for Rayo after two defeats in a row, and they move above their hosts to ninth in the table. (16.12.12)
Málaga consolidated fourth spot with a 0-2 victory over neighbours Sevilla in the last match on Saturday evening. It was as they say a game of two halves, the locals having the better of the first 45 minutes, and the visitors dominating the match after the break. With only three minutes gone Negredo fired a shot against the post which rebounded in to the hands of Willy Caballero, and a cross-come-shot from Fernando Navarro hit the crossbar a few minutes later. Santa Cruz headed wide from a corner soon afterwards, but Caballero had to make a couple of important saves from Negredo, and Navas saw his follow up shot deflected wide by a desperate defender. Pellegrini made changes to his formation at half time however, pushing Demichelis further forward, and within four minutes the Argentinian defender gave his side the lead with a looping header back past Diego López from a Joaquín corner. With twenty minutes to go it was all over when Fazio got himself sent off for bundled over Joaquín as he advanced in to the area, Eliseu converting the resulting spot kick, and Saviola came close to a third when he shot just over the top near the end.
Earlier in the day Getafe missed out on a chance to make it in to the Europa League spots after they could only draw 1-1 at home to Osasuna. As it was though they only saved a point thanks to a controversial last minute Diego Castro penalty after falling behind a few minutes from the end. The visitors were looking to build on their recent good form which has seen them battle their way out of the relegation spots, and they had the better chances early on, Moyà having to save from Nino and Nano firing a shot wide. Alvaro Vázquez had an effort cleared off the line by Arribas with the keeper beaten on the stroke of half time, Pedro León firing the rebound wide, but Moyà was once again in action to keep out Nino again soon after the restart. The game seemed to swing Getafe's way when Armenteros was sent off for a rash tackle on Valera, but with six minutes to go Kike Sola picked up a return pass from Nino and ran on to steer a shot past the keeper. However with the game in injury time Valera's cross hit Oier on the back of the leg, and José Antonio Teixeira Vitienes' linesman incorrectly signalled a penalty for hand ball. A grave error, but Diego Castro didn't falter, and he drilled the resulting spot kick past Andrés to save a point for his side.
Real Sociedad stay two points behind Getafe in the table after they too picked up a point in a 0-0 draw at Granada. Local coach Anquela was under pressure to get a result, but with his side not having scored a goal now in the last five games he needs a reliable striker to do so. This week it was Ighalo's turn to take over the centre forward spot, but he failed to beat Claudio Bravo early on, and later in the second half he shot straight at the keeper with the goal at his mercy. The Basque side themselves didn't cause too many problems for Roberto either, Ifran heading straight at him towards the end of the first half, and Xabi Prieto and Carlos Vela failing to hit the target before the break. With the game in the final minutes Ifrán was pulled up incorrectly for offside, and Bravo saved once again from El-Arabi, but in the end both coaches settled for a point.
The Andalusians do move out of the relegation spots however, just above Mallorca on goal difference after Joaquín Caparrós's side lost 0-1 against Athletic Bilbao. The Balearic islanders are in free-fall after only picking up two points from their last eleven games, and to make matters worse it was their ex striker Aduríz who got the only goal early on after connecting with Iraola's long cross to steer a header wide of Aouate. The locals should have levelled the scores after that, Iraizoz having to make first class saves from Hemed and Victor amongst others, Hemed shooting wide a couple of times either side of half time, and Víctor firing a shot past the post with the goal gaping in front of him. But Athletic held on for a second league win in a row, a result which helps them forget their embarrassing midweek cup defeat against Eibar. (15.12.12)