Two matches on Monday evening this week, with Betis holding on to seventh spot ahead of Getafe after the two teams drew 0-0 in Sevilla. With both cup finalists all but mathematically sure of a Champions League spot, and Málaga currently excluded from Europe next season, even eighth place could mean a Europa League spot, and Betis and Getafe are strong candidates for one of those places. If anything the visitors had the better of the first half, Fede Fernández going close with a couple of headers early on, and Colunga and Pedro León bringing good saves out of Adrián. The local keeper also had to push an inswinging León corner on to the crossbar, and his opposite number Codina had to make a couple of stops before the break from Paulao and Molina, and was called on again after the restart to keep out a Beñat free kick and another shot from Pabón. In the end though both coaches settled for a point which maintains their hopes of a return to the international stage next season.
Last season's Europa League finalists Athletic Bilbao have other challenges this year though, and they move clear of the danger zone after a 1-0 victory over fellow strugglers Granada earlier in the evening. The Basque side got off to a good start, Ibai Gómez firing a shot just wide and Susaeta testing Toño with a header. However Iraizoz had to be at his best to to push a Nolito header on to the bar a few minutes later, and before the interval the local keeper was in action again to save an El-Arabi free kick. Early in the second half Ibai failed to convert a couple of chances, but Aduríz finally beat Toño with a well placed header after Ibai played across Susaeta's short corner, the striker's first goal in nine games. The Andalusians tried their best after that, especially after Susaeta was sent off for a second bookable offence, but Bielsa's team ran the clock down to ensure a win which takes them seven points clear of their opponents, who are now just four points above the relegation spots. (01.04.13)
Status quo in the Champions League spots this weekend after the top four teams all drew, Atlético Madrid staying in third position after they were held to a 1-1 draw by sixth placed Valencia in the last game on Sunday evening. Both goals came early on, Jonas picking up a Joao Pereira cross to put the visitors ahead in the fifth minute, and Falcao getting on the end of Arda Turan's centre to equalise just a minute later. After that though the Ches had the better of the first half, Banega going close a couple of times, Guardado firing in a shot which hit his own man Valdez as it was going in, and Courtois making a double save from Piatti and Jonas shortly before the break. Eventually however Atleti rallied, and Diego Alves had to keep out a Gabi free kick and a charge by Diego Costa either side of half time. Later in the second half the visiting keeper had to save from a Godín header following a corner, and Raúl García tried his luck a couple of times. In the end though both teams settled for a point which keeps them on track for a return to Europe next season.
Real Sociedad remain in fourth place, a point now above Málaga, after they drew 2-2 at Espanyol. The Catalans twice took the lead, the first time in the eighth minute when Sergio García got ahead of his markers to turn Simao's cross past Zubikarai. A quarter of an hour later Zurutuza equalised with a first time volley over the head of Kiko Casilla after the keeper punched away Illarramendi's centre, but Stuani restored the lead before the break with an acrobatic shot from Sergio García's cross. After the interval Casilla was called upon a couple of times to keep out Agirretxe, but with a quarter of an hour to go he was left stranded when Javi López deflected the ball in to his own net when Griezmann tried to play Rubén Pardo's pass across the area. A useful point though for Javier Aguirre's side, and after a bad start to the season they are almost safe for another year.
Valladolid's hopes of European football have all but faded after they were beaten 1-3 by Osasuna in the first match of the day. Djukic's side had only won one of their last eight games, but they got off to a good start when Rubén headed Balenziaga's cross in to his own net in only the eleventh minute. Visiting keeper Andrés had to be at his best to save from Oscar and Manucho before the interval, but five minutes in to the second half the Pamplona based side equalised, Kike Sola reacting quickly to head the ball in to the empty net after Dani Hernández failed to hold on to a shot from De las Cuevas. Ten minutes later Sola headed in his second of the day after Gato Silva headed the ball back in to the area following a corner which Hernández punched clear, and a few minutes later De las Cuevas intercepted a sloppy pass in midfield to run on and score the third. The win ends a run of three defeats in a row for Mendilibar's team, and takes them seven points clear of the relegation places.
Bottom club Deportivo kept their slim hopes of survival alive after a 2-3 victory against the team immediately above them in the table, Mallorca. It was the Balearic Islanders who went ahead first though, a speculative shot by Víctor Casadesús in the twentieth minute taking a deflection off Silvio to wrong-foot Aranzubia. Just four minutes later though Silvio made up for it with the equaliser, cutting in from the left wing before curling a shot inside Aouate's far post. Aranzubia had to save from Pizzi soon afterwards, and Giovanni fired a shot just wide of the post before the break, but three minutes after the restart Abel Aguilar headed a long Pizzi free kick back across goal, and the ball fell to Marchena for him to score from a metre out. With an hour on the clock Riki got the third with a little bit of fortune, Aouate's save from Pizzi's shot coming off Luna's head straight to the striker, and although Nsue got one back with two minutes to go when Alfaro's shot hit him on the line and went in, the goal came too late to prevent the defeat. Depor are now only a point behind Mallorca and Celta in the table, with Zaragoza three points above them in the last safe spot. (31.03.13)
La Liga returned after the two week international lay-off, with the top two Barcelona and Real Madrid both held to draws on Saturday by teams struggling to avoid relegation. Barça coach Tito Vilanova was back in Spain after a three month spell in New York for cancer treatment, although doctors advised him not to make the trip to Vigo, and Jordi Roura remained in charge for one more game at least. The orders to rest key players ahead of Tuesday night's Champions League game were clear though, and a much changed line-up were held to a 2-2 draw by Celta. The Galicians had the better of the first half hour or so, Park Chu-Young having a penalty appeal turned down and Pinto having to save from a deflected clearance by Piqué and from a shot by Oubiña before Natxo Insa poked Orellana's pass past the ex Celta keeper to open the scoring. Messi felt he should have had a penalty as well, and after he brought a good save out of Javi Varas with a well struck free kick, the Argentinian forward put Tello through for him to curl a shot past the keeper in off the far post. With just over a quarter of an hour to go Messi latched on to Tello's return pass to give the visitors the lead, completing a run of nineteen games in which he has scored against every team in the league, but with two minutes to go Oubiña made it all square again, heading Orellana's cross wide of the keeper after substitute Busquets lost the ball trying to dribble out of defence.
Real Madrid missed out on a chance to close the gap on the leaders after they were held 1-1 at Zaragoza later in the day, and they remain thirteen points behind their arch-rivals in the table. Rodri missed an easy chance for the locals before putting them ahead in the sixth minute, running on to Apoño's pass from midfield to beat Diego López. Ronaldo went close though and Loovens had to clear an effort from Pepe off the line before Ronaldo levelled the scores, picking up Higuaín's pass and holding off a challenge from two defenders before firing a low shot inside Roberto's near post. The local keeper did well to save an Essien header soon afterwards, and Diego also had to keep out Rodri and Abraham before the half time whistle, and after the restart Ronaldo tested Roberto again before Marcelo drove the rebound against the post. Mourinho too had saved many of his best players for the midweek match against Galatasaray, but on the hour mark he decided it was time to bring on Özil, Khedira and Di María. However the best chances after that fell to the Maños, and Diego was called upon again to save a couple of times from Postiga before the final whistle.
Spain's other surviving Champions League team Málaga did manage a win though, Pellegrini's side beating Rayo Vallecano 1-3 in the opening game of the weekend. The Andalusians had never won in Vallecas in the first division, but they went in front in the twentieth minute when Weligton got behind the defence to head in a wide Pedro Morales free kick. Ten minutes later however Piti levelled the scores from the penalty spot after Willy Caballero brought down Tito inside the area, and either side of half time José Carlos headed a good chance wide and Lass got through on goal only to be thwarted by Caballero. But soon afterwards Baptista restored the lead for the visitors when he headed a Pedro Morales corner down past Cobeño, and Morales rounded off his best performance in a Málaga shirt with a third goal, beating the keeper with a shot from outside of the area after Portillo laid the ball back from the left.
The day ended with Levante winning 1-0 against Sevilla, a result which takes the Valencia based side a point above their opponents in the table. The early chances fell to the visitors, Munúa having to save from Reyes, Negredo and Navas. But after that Beto had to keep out Iborra and Acquafresca, and with five minutes to go to the break the locals took the lead, Rubén winning the ball off Maduro in midfield and running on to fire a low shot wide of Beto. Both keepers were in action again after the restart, Munúa saving from a Rakitic free kick and from Navas and Negredo, and Beto blocking a shot from Rubén. Diop hit the side netting and Roger poked a shot against the upright from Juanlu's cross later on, but in the end it was Rubén's strike that made the difference between the two teams. (30.03.13)