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Match round-up - First Division, Day 18

Real Madrid started the New Year with a 3-0 victory over Celta on Monday night which keeps them five points behind the two leaders. It was flattering result though, the goals coming late on after the visitors had given the local fans a fright or two, the first in the sixth minute when Diego López was called upon to turn a shot from Charles round the post. Rafinha, Orellana and Oubiña also went close before the break, and Yoel had little to do until he had to save a couple of efforts by Di María and Isco either side of half time. The introduction of Jesé livened things up though, the youngster bringing another save out of the visiting keeper before passing in for Benzema to open the scoring. Charles had missed another chance seconds earlier, and Nolito went close with a dangerous free kick, but with eight minutes to go Ronaldo got on the end of a long Carvajal cross to make it two. Soon afterwards Ronaldo was there again to turn in Bale’s cross, his 400 th professional goal for club and country, and Celta were down and out, the last goal taking them in to the bottom three, below Valladolid on goal difference.

An incredible match to round off the first weekend of the year, Villarreal beating Rayo Vallecano 2-5 to move back up to sixth in the table. The result could easily have been the other way round though, the locals wasting a hatful of chances and the visitors scoring virtually every time they approached goal. Asenjo had to push an early Gálvez free kick on to the bar, but with ten minutes gone Uche got on the end of a wayward Perbet shot to open the scoring, and two minutes later Perbet made it two after Moi Gómez crossed in from the left wing. Asenjo had to be at his best to keep out Saúl Ñíguez and Lass, Jonathan Viera fired a shot against the post, and Viera and Gálvez both went close. However immediately after Musacchio blocked a shot by Saúl, Perbet shot just wide on the resulting counter-attack, and a couple of minutes later Perbet got his second of the night in a carbon copy of his first goal. Paco Jémez made two attacking changes at the break, but although Castillo tested Asenjo again, Uche got on the end of Aquino’s cross to make it four. Gálvez had a strike ruled out for a borderline offside, but once again Villarreal struck, Uche completing the easiest of hat-tricks after Cobeño could only push out a long Trigueros free kick. Castillo did get two back after that, the first from a Viera assist, and the second a last minute penalty after Uche fouled Trashorras in the area, but it was too late to prevent another defeat which leaves them still in next to bottom spot. (06.01.14)

No problems for Barcelona on Sunday afternoon, Tata Martino’s side cruising to a 4-0 victory against Elche which keeps them at the top of the table for another week. With only a quarter of an hour on the clock they were already two up, Alexis firing a Jordi Alba cross in to the roof of the net and Pedro running on to a Fàbregas through ball to round Toño and score. Boakye did hit the upright in between, but otherwise the visitors hardly troubled the returning Víctor Valdés, and Pedro, Iniesta, Alba and Alexis all went close before the break. Some three minutes in to the second half the locals had a chance to increase the lead after Sapunaru gave away a penalty on Fàbregas, but Xavi fired his spot kick wide of the post. However a few minutes later Alexis got his second of the match after Iniesta and Pedro combined to set him up, and the Chilean striker completed his hat-trick five minutes later with a well struck free kick. The result means that Barça and Atlético stay level on points going in to their clash in the Calderón stadium next Saturday.

Later in the evening Real Sociedad closed the gap on fourth placed Athletic Bilbao to one point after beating their arch-rivals 2-0 in San Sebastian. It was a typical Basque derby, both teams giving 100%, although the visitors had the better chances before the break, Laporte firing a free kick just wide and Gurpegi heading a corner just past the post. With three minutes to go to the interval however Griezmann opened the scoring for the locals following a corner, the French forward volleying a shot past Iraizoz after the keeper had blocked his first effort. Real could have had a second when Balenziaga headed a corner against his own post early in the second half, and Griezmann broke free a few minutes later on to shoot straight at Iraizoz. Ander Herrera tested Bravo at the other end, Aduríz and Muniain went close and Athletic felt they should have had a penalty when the ball hit Bergara on the arm in the area, but with the game in injury time Pardo picked up a Seferovic pass and beat Iraizoz with an angled shot to wrap things up.

Sevilla move up to sixth pending Villarreal’s game on Monday thanks to a 3-0 win over Getafe in the Sunday mid-day kick-off. The Andalusians got off to a good start, Fazio and Bacca going close, Moyà having to save a couple of times from Bacca, and Gameiro hitting the post. Colunga tested Beto for the first time with half an hour gone, but a couple of minutes later Vitolo ran on to Bacca’s return pass to give the locals the lead. Pedro León tried his luck with a couple of long range efforts after the restart, but otherwise Sevilla had it all their own way, Bacca making it two from close to goal after Fazio headed across a long Rakitic free kick. And with a quarter of an hour to go Rakitic got the third himself after Bacca won the ball back off Alexis to make it sixteen points in the last six games for Unai Emery’s side.

Osasuna distanced themselves from the drop zone after they beat Espanyol 1-0, the result leaving Valladolid down in the bottom three in their place. Javier Aguirre had to put out a depleted side after a bout of flu took out several players, but even so Sergio García fired a shot wide in the opening minutes and Andrés had to be on his toes to keep out a long effort from David López. Armenteros went close for the locals though with an early free kick, and with just over half an hour on the clock Javi López failed to control the ball outside of his own area, and Alvaro Cejudo took advantage to run on and score. The Catalans had the better chances after the interval, Córdoba and Sergio García shooting wide and Abraham bringing another good save out of Andrés, and Oier was lucky to be let off a penalty appeal when the ball hit his arm in the area, but in the end the Pamplona based held on for three vital points. (05.01.14)

Atlético Madrid kept up the pressure on Barcelona with a 0-1 victory at Málaga in the first game of the New Year. A five man defence put up a solid resistance though, and Atleti’s only chances in the first half were a couple of efforts by Juanfran and Arda Turan which Willy Caballero kept out. Weligton and Samuel fired shots just wide at the other end, and Courtois had to save from Eliseu, and after the restart the visiting keeper did well to stop another shot from Antunes. Adrián and Turan replied for the visitors, but with twenty minutes to go Koke got what was to prove the only goal of the game, beating Caballero with a low shot after the keeper could only deflect an Adrián shot in to his path. The win takes Simeone’s side top of the table pending Barça’s game against Elche on Sunday, and the two leaders meet in the Calderón stadium next weekend in the last round of games of the first half of the season, with the honorary title of winter champions at stake.

Later in the evening Valencia beat city neighbours Levante 2-0 to close up on the European spots. With new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi in charge for the first time, the locals totally dominated the match, Jonas, Postiga and Feghouli all going close before Piatti opened the scoring, controlling a poor headed clearance by Vyntra from Bernat’s cross before thrashing a shot past Keylor Navas. Levante’s only real chance came in the second half when Barral intercepted a bad back-pass from Barragán only to shoot wide, and Feghouli fired a shot just past the post before he picked up a ball outside of the area and cut past a couple of defenders to make it two. Jonas came close to a third when he headed Feghouli’s cross just over the bar near the end, but the Ches had already done enough for a win which takes them to within six points of the European spots.

Further down the table Valladolid and Betis played out a dour 0-0 draw which kept the Andalusians at the bottom of the pack. Juan Carlos Garrido’s team got off to a good start, Diego Mariño having to be at his best to keep out a header from his own defender Marc Valiente and a shot from Molina in the opening minutes. Larsson brought a good save out of Guillermo Sara at the other end, but Mariño was in action again to beat away a wide Verdú free kick shortly before the break. After the restart Rossi and Larsson tried their luck, and Sara just managed to get a hand to a cross-come-shot from Peña, and with the game coming to an end Juan Carlos fired a shot just wide of goal for the visitors. In the end though a point was just about right, and Betis remain five points behind their hosts in the table.

Almería moved clear of the danger zone however after a 3-0 win against regional rivals Granada. Dubarbier opened the scoring for the locals with a first time shot from an Aleix Vidal cross, and Verza made it two from the penalty spot after Mainz pushed over Soriano inside the area following a corner. Esteban had to save from Brahimi and Riki either side of half time, but Karnezis, making his debut in the league, kept out headers from Trujillo and Torsiglieri, and then stopped another shot from Vidal. With ten minutes to go however the keeper could only get a hand to another shot from Vidal after Soriano put him through, the ball rolling back slowly in to the net. A good win for Almería to start off the year in the Mediterraneo stadium, and they end the day just a point behind their opponents in the table. (04.01.14)