Barcelona restored their nine point lead at the top of the table after a 1-3 win at Valladolid on Sunday evening. Assistant coach Jordi Roura has taken over on the bench whilst Tito Vilanova recovers from his cancer operation, but otherwise it was business as usual as the Catalans took their points tally this season to a record 49 out of a possible 51. Alexis missed a couple of early chances and Messi curled a free kick against the post before Xavi got on the end of a Jordi Alba cross to open the scoring shortly before half time. And after the restart Pedro headed against the woodwork and Messi uncharacteristically fired a shot wide of the target before making up for it with his side's second just a minute or so later. Up to that point Valladolid's only reply had been a possible penalty appeal for hands when Jordi Alba blocked a header from Manucho, and although Javi Guerra did get one back for the locals with a couple of minutes to go after Valdés could only push out his first header, substitute Tello wrapped things up in injury time after a long gallop from midfield.
Barça are now a massive sixteen points clear of Real Madrid after they lost 3-2 to fourth placed Málaga later in the day. Mourinho surprised everyone leaving Casillas on the substitute's bench for "technical reasons", Adán making a rare start in goal in his place. The young keeper had little to do in the first half, the only real chances falling to Cristiano Ronaldo at the other end. But some three minutes after the restart he was beaten for the first time when Isco drilled a shot inside the post from the edge of the area, and although Madrid equalised when Sergio Sánchez ran the ball in to his own net trying to clear from Benzema, substitute Santa Cruz took advantage of some slack defending to fire two more past him in as many minutes. Benzema did close the gap again after Özil intercepted Camacho's pass to set him up with eight minutes to go, but the Andalusians held on for a win which takes them to within two points of the Merengues in the table.
Plenty of changes this weekend in the lower reaches of the table, with Mallorca climbing out of the drop zone after a controversial 1-2 away win at Betis. Espanyol's victory on Thursday had left them in next to bottom spot, and they went behind early on when Beñat's wide free kick bounced past everyone in to the net. The Andalusians were looking for a win which would take them up in to the Champions League spots, and Campbell and Molina could both have added to the lead in the next few minutes. However the visitors levelled the scores on the half hour mark, Víctor Casadesús getting above his marker to head Kevin García's cross wide of Adrián, and less than a minute in to the second half referee Undiano Mallenco incorrectly awarded a penalty to the islanders when Mario tripped Víctor just outside of the area, Javi Márquez stepping up to convert the resulting spot kick. It was a first win in fourteen games for Caparrós and his side, the ex Sevilla coach doubly delighted for a victory against the old enemy which keeps him in his job at least until the new year.
All of that meant that Granada started their match at Osasuna down in the bottom three, but they too climbed back out of the relegation zone after a 1-2 victory in the Reyno de Navarro stadium. The locals took the lead in only the seventh minute though, Nino getting the finishing touch after Raoul Loe headed on Cejudo's corner. That meant an uphill battle for the Andalusians, who had not scored a single goal in their last five matches, and once again they wasted many chances, with Ighalo heading against the bar and bringing a good save out of Andrés, and El-Arabi shooting wide twice when free on goal. However either side of half time they scored two in quick succession to turn the scoreline around, Mainz heading a Dani Benítez free kick back past the keeper, and Benítez himself firing a long shot in to the far top corner of the net soon after the restart. The defeat leaves Osasuna in next to bottom spot, and Espanyol also return to the relegation places after only 24 hours of "salvation".
The year's programme finished with a 0-2 victory for Zaragoza at Athletic Bilbao, a result which takes the Maños up to twelfth, a point above their hosts in the table. Both keepers were in action early on, Iraizoz saving a deflected shot from Zuculini and Roberto keeping out De Marcos. However with half an hour on the clock Apoño converted a penalty after Aurtenetxe brought down Víctor Rodríguez in the area, and ten minutes later Postiga made it two after Iraizoz's punched clearance had been played back in to the area by Abraham. Bielsa's side tried their best after that, De Marcos hitting the bar before the break and Roberto having to make top class stops from De Marcos and Llorente after the restart, but Zaragoza could have won by a bigger margin in the end if Postiga and Edu Oriol had been able to hit the target later on. Another victory away from home though for Manolo Jiménez's team, and as things stand at the moment they have picked up more points on their travels than in their own Romareda stadium.
Players and staff will now have a brief rest (friendly matches permitting) before activities begin again on the first weekend of January. "Felices fiestas a todos!". (22.12.12)
Second placed Atlético Madrid put the pressure back on Barcelona with a 1-0 win over Celta on Friday night, Simeone's side moving on to 40 points, just six behind the leaders pending their game on Saturday. The locals dominated for most of the match, with Koke hitting the post early on, and Turan, Falcao and Diego Costa causing numerous problems for Javi Varas and his defence before the break. Up to that point only Alex López and Augusto Fernández had got anywhere near to Courtois's goal, but after the restart the Galicians they improved, with Cisma, Miranda and Godín having to clear dangerous attacks from Hugo Mallo and Iago Aspas. Simeone turned to Adrián though, and within five minutes of coming on he picked up a ball outside of the area after his first pass was blocked, and fired a first time shot in to the top corner of the net. And although Miranda got himself sent off late on, the goal was enough to give Atleti a record thirteenth win at this stage of the competition, thereby ensuring that they end the year above their city rivals Real.
Earlier in the evening Valencia continued their improvement under new coach Ernesto Valverde, a 4-2 win against Getafe taking them above their opponents to ninth. The Ches raced in to a two goal lead, Soldado heading in Feghouli's cross with less than a minute gone, and then setting up Jonas for a second some six minutes later. Alvaro Vázquez got one back soon afterwards, lifting an angled shot past Diego Alves after Xavi Torres put him through, and both keepers had saves to make before Ricardo Costa restored the two goal cushion with a header from a Tino Costa corner. Either side of half time Alves did well to keep out Lafita and Diego Castro, and soon after the restart Jonas poked a shot against the foot of the post. A few minutes later though Alexis headed a second for the visitors from Barrada's corner, and the result was in doubt until substitute Nelson Valdez wrapped things up in injury time, turning the ball in to an empty net after Jonathan Viera chipped back Banega's cross. (21.12.12)
With the two week winter break approaching, the last round of league matches of the year has been brought forward a couple of days. There were three matches already on Thursday, with Rayo Vallecano moving to within two points of sixth placed Levante after beating the Valencia based side 3-0. All the goals came in the second half after a fairly eventless first forty-five minutes, young left back Nacho opening the scoring with an impressive shot from outside of the area which went in off the post. El Zhar and Angel both failed to beat Rubén soon afterwards, but Piti made it two with a well struck free kick which Munúa could do little about. And with the game in injury time Franco Vázquez added a third, steering the ball back in to the empty net after the keeper could only block a shot by Leo Baptistao.
Real Sociedad stay level with Rayo after they won 2-1 against Sevilla, extending their unbeaten run to seven games. Carlos Vela put the Basque side ahead after picking up an assist from Griezmann early in the first half, and Xabi Prieto missed a good chance to extend the lead soon after the restart. Medel equalised soon afterwards though after Reyes stepped over a Jesús Navas cross, and Reyes brought a good save out of Bravo and then hit the woodwork a few minutes later. Ifrán missed ac couple of chances however for the locals, and De la Bella put them back in front after fellow full back Carlos Martínez crossed in from the right. Any hopes of a comeback ended when Coke was sent off after picking up two bookings in three minutes, and Michel's side drop further down the table after only picking up five points from their last nine matches.
Espanyol moved out of the relegation spots for the first time in fifteen weeks after a 2-0 victory against fellow strugglers Deportivo. Both sides had chances early on, Sergio García hitting the side netting and Víctor Sánchez clearing off the line from Aguilar, but with half an hour on the clock Simao gave the locals the lead, steering a header back over Lux after the keeper punched out Wakaso's cross. Riki went close a couple of times before the break, and Sergio García and Simao brought good saves out of Lux either side of half time, and later in the second half Casilla did well to get a hand to a shot from substitute Nelson Oliveira. However with two minutes to go Stuani picked up a pass from Raúl Baena before beating the keeper for a second time, leaving the Galicians down at the foot of the table as the year comes to a close. (20.12.12)