Villarreal moved above Real Sociedad to fifth in the table after an impressive 5-1 victory against the Basque side on Monday evening. Giovani opened the scoring for the locals on the quarter hour mark after Mario laid the ball back from the by-line. And although Sergio Asenjo had to be at his best to save from Carlos Vela, Uche and Giovani added two more in a five minute period around the half hour mark, the first from Giovani’s cross, and the second after Mario’s pass deflected to him. Bravo pushed a Bruno free kick around the post before the interval, but Giovani set up Uche again for the fourth just a few minutes in to the second half, and Moi Gómez made it five soon afterwards, running on to Jaume Costa’s return pass to force a shot past the visiting keeper. Agirretxe headed one back from Vela’s corner on the hour mark, but Giovani came close to a hat-trick with a long free kick, and the visitors were grateful when the final whistle blew. They will have to do it all again though in four days’ time when they meet in the Madrigal stadium in the second leg of the Spanish cup. (13.01.14)
Real Madrid moved to within three points of joint leaders Barcelona and Atlético after a 0-1 win at Espanyol on Sunday evening. The draw between the top two the day before had given Ancelotti’s side a chance to narrow the gap, although at first they were pegged back, Stuani almost putting the Catalans ahead when he headed just wide of the post early on. After that though Madrid took control, Benzema going close a couple of times and Kiko Casilla having to save a long shot and then a free kick from Cristiano Ronaldo. Soon after the restart Pepe opened the scoring with a header from a wide Modric free kick, and Casilla was in action again to keep out Ronaldo and Benzema later on. Javi López did fire a shot wide near the end, but the visitors held on for a win which maintains the nine point gap over fourth placed Athletic Bilbao. Madrid’s 47 points at the halfway stage is ten more than they achieved last season under Mourinho, although this year the two leaders are setting the bar even higher than ever.
Espanyol drop to twelfth, now a point behind Levante, who beat Málaga 1-0 in the last game on Sunday. Barral got the only goal in the twentieth minute, beating Willy Caballero with an angled header from an Ivanschitz corner, but otherwise the visitors had all the chances, with Camacho and Samuel going close before the break. Local keeper Keylor Navas had to save from Duda and Flavio in particular after the restart, Juanfran deflected a shot by Eliseu over the bar, Vyntra cleared off the line from Sergio Sánchez with the keeper beaten, and Santa Cruz, Eliseu, Camacho and Tissone all fired efforts just wide of the mark. Despite all that though Joaquín Caparrós’s side came away the victors, and they move up in to the top half of the table as a result.
The top seven have opened up a big gap over the rest, but only seven points separate eighth placed Valencia from next to bottom club Rayo Vallecano, who moved to within two points of safety after beating their southern Madrid neighbours Getafe 0-1 on Sunday lunchtime. The dense fog made visibility difficult, and referee Clos Gómez had a penalty decision over-ruled by his own linesman when Viera’s shot hit Lisandro in the face, and not on the hand as he at first thought. A few minutes later though the visitors took the lead following a corner, Gálvez crossing back in for the forward to turn a shot past Moyà. Rubén had to save from Lisandro and Ciprian either side of half time, and Adrián selfishly tried to score himself on a quick breakaway with Viera free alongside him. The locals came close to equalizing late on when Gavilán and Colunga both had shots cleared off the line, but Rayo held on for a fifth win in a row against their eternal rivals.
Rayo’s win leaves Betis five points adrift at the bottom of the table however after the Andalusians lost 1-2 at home to relegation rivals Osasuna. Roberto Torres headed the visitors in front from Cejudo’s cross in the second minute, and things got worse for Juan Carlos Garrido’s side when Nano got himself sent off for a second bookable offence with eight minutes of the first half still remaining. Some twelve minutes in to the second half Jordi Figueras turned Damià’s cross in to his own net trying to clear, and although numbers were evened up when Osasuna keeper Andrés was sent off for giving away a penalty on Rubén Castro, the striker fired his spot kick against the bar. Half time substitute Jorge Molina did eventually find the net after picking up Chuli’s return pass with ten minutes to go, but the strike came too late to prevent another defeat which left Betis with only eleven points, their lowest tally at the half-way stage of the competition in 70 years. (12.01.14)
All square in the big match on Saturday evening, joint leaders Atlético Madrid and Barcelona drawing 0-0 to end the first half of the season on 50 points. It was an intense match, with the best two defences in the league only allowing a couple of chances at either end. Tata Martino decided to leave Messi and Neymar on the bench at the start, the former only just back from a two month injury lay-off, and the later still recovering from a bout of gastric flu. And for a few minutes they were pinned back in their own half, Piqué heading a Turan cross just over his own bar, and Diego Costa coming up against Mascherano and Piqué a couple of times. Pedro tested Courtois for the first time later on in the first half, but otherwise it was hard going, a lenient Mateu Lahoz letting players from both sides off bookings for some physical tackles. Iniesta in particular suffered, and at half time he was the one to make way for Messi, Martino taking him off as a precaution after the Spanish international complained of a bruised knee. After the interval Valdés had to save from Godín (who was then pulled up for offside), and Diego Costa fired a shot wide of the mark, and with Neymar now on the park, Messi headed a cross from Jordi Alba just wide. Valdés and Courtois proved why they are the best keepers in La Liga right now with saves from Turan and Messi, but in the end honours were shared, and Barça take the honorary title of winter champions thanks to a better goal difference. A best ever first half to the season however for Atlético, and with the league programme mirrored in the second half of the campaign, the return fixture in the Nou Camp on the last weekend may well decide who will be league champions this year.
Earlier in the afternoon Athletic Bilbao made sure of fourth spot for another week after thrashing Almería 6-1. Following defeats in the league and cup in the last few days, Valverde’s team needed a result, and Mikel Rico put them ahead in only the sixth minute after running on to an Aduríz return pass to fire an angled shot past Esteban. Four minutes later Ander Herrera made it two after picking up a centre from Susaeta, and Laporte headed the third on the half hour mark from Susaeta’s corner. Hélder Barbosa headed one back for the visitors soon afterwards from Verza’s wide free kick, but Aduríz, Herrera and Iturraspe all went close again before the break, and some seven minutes after the restart Aduríz scored the fourth, volleying a shot past the keeper after Muniain was unable to control an Ibai Gómez cross. After that Ibai himself added two more, the first an impressive shot in to the far top corner of the net, and the second from the penalty spot after Trujillo pushed over Kike Sola in the area,to keep up Athletic’s unbeaten record in their new stadium.
Sevilla missed out on a chance to move up in to the top six after they were held to a 1-1 draw at Elche in the last game on Saturday, although they will be grateful for a point in the end after they only equalized with only two minutes to go. Bacca could well have put Unai Emery’s side in front before the break, but uncharacteristically for him he fired a couple of good chances wide. Javi Márquez almost caught out Beto with a long free kick and Coro headed an Aarón cross just wide of the mark, and a few minute in to the second half Márquez volleyed another effort past the post. Bacca missed two more opportunities after that, and Toño just got a hand to an effort from Gameiro, but with eight minutes to go substitute Cristian Herrera put the home side in front when he headed Fidel’s cross wide of Beto. It looked like the youngster had given his team another win, but with the game coming to an end Carriço flung himself at a Reyes cross to head the ball past Toño from the near post. A point saved and a seventh league game without defeat, but Sevilla remain in seventh place, still outside of the European spots for another week.
Valencia also lost ground on the teams above them after they were beaten 2-1 at Celta, the Galicians themselves moving out of the relegation zone as a result. Visiting keeper Diego Alves had to be at his best to save from Augusto Fernández and Charles early on, but midway through the first half Dani Parejo got on the end of Feghouli’s lifted cross to head the visitors in to the lead. Yoel prevented Jonas from scoring a second, but Rafinha fired a shot just wide at the other end, and five minutes after the break Charles equalized after Ricardo Costa failed to cut out a cross from Rafinha. Augusto and Orellana had shots blocked after that, and with twelve minutes to go Guardado lost the ball in his own half, and Charles ran on to fire home his second of the evening. With the game coming to an end Nolito and then Feghouli hit the bar at either end, Santi Mina and Canales both missing the target on the rebound, and Nolito brought a last minute save out of Alves. A much needed win though for Luis Enrique against his old friend Pizzi, and Celta gain a bit of breathing space coming in to the second half of the season. (11.01.14)
Granada moved up in the top half of the table pending the rest of the weekend’s games after a 4-0 victory over Valladolid on Friday evening. The Andalusians had lost four of their last five matches, including the last two at home, but Murillo gave them the lead with an acrobatic overhead kick with just over ten minutes gone, and Recio made it two a few minutes later, poking a shot in to the net after visiting keeper Diego Mariño misjudged a Fran Rico corner. Roberto was called upon for the first time to keep out Víctor Pérez before the break, but ten minutes in to the second half Recio intercepted a poor clearance by Jesús Rueda to run on and score his second of the night. Javi Guerra, Omar and Larsson all failed to convert chances after that as Juan Ignacio Martínez’s side fought to get back in the game, but with twelve minutes left to go El-Arabi wrapped things up after Mainz headed on another Rico corner. The defeat leaves Valladolid down in the bottom three, now below Celta on goal difference. (10.01.14)