Athletic Bilbao recovered fourth place after a 4-2 victory over Valladolid in the Monday night game. Villarreal’s win on Sunday had left the Basque side out of the Champions League spots, and they went behind against the run of play when Ebert’s shot hit Javi Guerra, and the ball fell to Oscar who poked a shot past Gorka Iraizoz. Visiting keeper Diego Mariño produced a string of top class saves after that, in particular from Ander Herrera before the break and Ibai Gómez and Aduríz after, but he could not stop Ibai from levelling the scores after the keeper could only push out another long shot from Aduríz. Some ten minutes later De Maros headed the locals in front after Aduríz headed across a long centre from Ibai, and soon afterwards Ibai ran on to an Aduríz reverse pass to score his second of the night. With five minutes to go Herrera got in on the act with his side’s fourth after De Marcos lifted the ball over from the right by-line, and although Valdet Rama ran through to score a “Messi-like” goal in injury time, the game ended soon afterwards. Athletic keep up their unbeaten home record in their new stadium (next up are Atlético in the cup and Real Madrid in the league!), but the defeat leaves their opponents still down in the relegation zone for another week at least. (20.01.14)
The league title was thrown wide open after Barcelona and Atlético Madrid drew their respective matches on Sunday evening, and with Real Madrid winning the night before, only one point now separates the top three. Barcelona were first up, and they were held to a 1-1 draw by Levante, who they meet again in the cup in three days’ time. Vyntra headed the locals in to an early lead from an Ivanschitz corner, but only a few minutes later Piqué got on the end of a Xavi corner to head the equalizer. A well organized defence limited Barça to two or three long efforts from Xavi, Messi and Fàbregas either side of half time, and on the hour mark Keylor Navas made two spectacular from Messi, with Xavi seeing his shot blocked on the line by Juanfran in-between. Navas kept out Messi and Tello again later on, but the home side also had their chances, Pedro López going close a couple of times and Ivanschitz testing Valdés with a long shot. A second league draw in a row for Tata Martino’s team, and although the result at Atlético last weekend was to be expected, this was certainly not.
That meant though that Atlético Madrid only had to beat Sevilla later in the evening to end Barcelona’s run of 57 weeks at the top, and for an hour or so they were on track after David Villa took advantage of a poor clearance by Beto from Godín’s header following a corner to put them in front. Up to that point Atlético had been the better team, but for the rest of the first half the visitors were on top, Courtois saving an Iborra header, and Coke and Fazio both shooting wide. Villa tested Beto with a long shot after the interval, and Raúl García felt he should have had a penalty when Alberto Moreno brought him down in the area. However just two minutes later referee Hernández Hernández awarded one to the Andalusians after Juanfran pulled on Bacca’s shirt, and Rakitic drilled home the resulting spot kick. The final minutes were more like a martial arts contest than a football match, Diego Costa and Fazio exchanging blows on the blind side of the referee, and Moreno being shown a red card for a tackle from behind on Raúl García. A disappointing 1-1 draw for Simeone’s side though, meaning that Barça stay top for another week on goal difference, but better news for Sevilla, who have now gone eight games without defeat.
Earlier in the evening Villarreal beat Almería 2-0 to move above Athletic Bilbao to fourth. Uche opened the scoring in only the third minute after Giovani put him through, but for the rest of the first half chances were few and far between, a couple of long range efforts by Bruno and Trigueros the only action to stir the crowd. With Suso on at the break though the visitors pushed forward for the equalizer, Verza having a long shot saved by Sergio Asenjo, and Aleix Vidal seeing his effort deflected wide off Bruno. Aquino had to head the ball away from under the goalpost after Torsiglieri headed in a corner, and Suso fired another effort wide before coming up against Asenjo once again. Jonathan Pereira came on to liven things up however, and with three minutes to go he won his side a penalty after Rafita pushed him over in the area, Bruno stepping up to slot home the spot kick and make sure of the three points.
Sixth placed Real Sociedad are now four points behind Marcelino’s team though after they drew 2-2 at Getafe in the Sunday mid-day kick off. The Basque side got off to an electrifying start, Agirretxe heading in a Carlos Vela in the fourth minute, and Vela having a strike ruled out for a non-existent offside before Agirretxe headed the second from another Vela cross. With just under half an hour gone though Ciprian got one back after a corner was only partly cleared, Escudero’s attempted volley falling kindly for the striker to turn a shot past Claudio Bravo. The visiting keeper did well to save from Pedro León twice before the break, and Arroyo headed just wide following a corner after the restart. Soon afterwards Borja hit the post, and Diego Castro swung the ball back across for Pedro León to level the scores with a first time volley. However just a couple of minutes later Borja got himself sent off for a second bookable offence, and Getafe sat back to defend, Agirretxe heading a corner just over the bar and Vela having a late penalty appeal turned down as the visitors tried in vain for the winning goal. (19.01.14)
Real Madrid threw down the gauntlet to Barcelona and Atlético prior to their games on Sunday, Ancelotti’s side thrashing bottom club Betis 0-5 on Saturday afternoon to move level on points with the two leaders. Ronaldo started things off in the eleventh minute with an impressive shot from outside of the area (later timed at 113 kph) which left Andersen looking on, and the Danish keeper was also stationary a quarter of an hour later when Bale curled a free kick in to the net from right of the area. Only new signing Baptistao caused any problems for the visiting defence, and with the first half coming to an end Modric left three players behind with a quick change of direction before setting up Benzema for the third. Ronaldo fired a couple of shots wide after the restart, and Andersen did well to keep out the Portuguese forward and Benzema, but with just over an hour on the clock Di María drilled home a long fourth after a defender headed away Modric’s corner. Paulao and Molina did try their luck for the locals, but substitute Morata completed the scoring after Ronaldo’s attempted overhead kick fell kindly to him, and the local fans (who always wanted Pepe Mel to stay) called for the head of new coach Juan Carlos Garrido after the final whistle.
Later in the evening Espanyol kept their hopes of a place in the top six alive with a 1-0 victory over Celta. Fresh from their epic comeback in the cup midweek, the Catalans started on a positive note, Stuani and Sergio García having early penalty claims turned down and Córdoba firing a good chance wide. The visitors replied with a long shot by Jonny Castro which Casilla saved comfortably, but with star striker Charles out with a stomach bug they hardly managed a shot at goal after that. After the interval Simao fired a free kick over the bar, and Colotto was caught offside a couple of times in front of goal, but the game appeared to be heading for a dull draw until Sergio García pulled down a long Moreno free kick and turned past two defenders before volleying the ball in to the net. It was enough for a win which takes Javier Aguirre’s side up to eighth, and which leaves Celta now only a couple of places above the drop zone.
Espanyol move a point ahead of Granada, who drew 0-0 at home to Osasuna in the Los Cármenes stadium. The first real chance fell to the visitors, Riera curling a shot wide, but after that the Andalusians took control, Recio heading a corner against the upright and then turning El-Arabi’s cross just wide, and Murillo having a header blocked by a defender. Later in the first half El-Arabi came up against Riesgo, who was replacing the suspended Andrés, and either side of half time there was a timid response from Osasuna, Lolo blasting a shot over the bar after his free kick was blocked, and Cejudo testing Roberto from long range. Both teams didn’t want to lose though, and after the break only a couple of efforts from Piti went anywhere near to breaking the deadlock. A point apiece in the end, and the two teams end the day safely ensconced in mid-table.
Further down the rankings Elche moved away from the danger zone after beating struggling Rayo Vallecano 2-0, a first win in six games taking Fran Escribá’s side five points clear of their opponents, who stay in next to bottom spot. The turning point of the match came though with twenty minutes gone, referee Pérez Montero awarding the locals a hotly-disputed penalty and sending off Raúl Baena after Coro fell under a challenge from the midfielder, Edu Albácer stepping up to drive home the resulting spot kick. Up to that point Rubén had already kept out a couple of early efforts, but visiting coach Paco Jémez decided to risk all, taking off a defender to play with three at the back. Later in the first half Aarón Ñíguez tested Rubén again, and his kid brother Saúl fired a free kick just over the top at the other end. But after the restart it was one-way traffic, Rubén having to save from Aarón and Coro, and Javi Márquez, Cristian Herrera and Manu del Moral firing shots wide. With ten minutes to go though substitute Boakye won a tackle on the edge of the area, and the ball fell to Márquez who stroked a shot in to the far corner of the net to wrap things up. A much needed win for the locals, and a brave Rayo sink further down in to the drop zone. (18.01.14)
The second half of the season kicked off with a 0-0 draw between Málaga and Valencia on Friday night, a result which takes Valencia up to eighth pending the rest of the weekend games, and leaves their hosts still three points behind them in the table. If there were no goals though it was only thanks to brilliant displays by both goalkeepers, Diego Alves saving twice from Samuel early on, and then pushing a Duda free kick around the post, and Willy Caballero keeping out a Dani Parejo free kick, and the follow up from Jonas. Piatti and Jonas also went close in the first half, and after the interval Caballero had to be at his best to save from Parejo and Jonas again. Alves responded with stops from Santa Cruz and new signing Pablo Pérez, and with twenty minutes to go Ricardo Costa did get the ball in the net from a wide Piatti free kick only for the strike to be ruled out for the positional offside of Jonas. A game without goals, but certainly not lacking for action. (17.01.14)