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Match round-up - First Division, Day 21

Sixth placed Real Sociedad opened up a five point gap over the teams below them after a 4-0 win against Elche on Monday evening. The star of the evening was Antoine Griezmann, the French striker opening the scoring with a lob over Toño in only the second minute which Damián Suárez could only run in to the net, and then heading a second from a Xabi Prieto cross some ten minutes later. Five minutes in to the second half Carlos Vela picked up the ball outside of the area and battled past three defenders to score his side’s third, and with a quarter of an hour to go Griezmann completed his hat-trick with an acrobatic volley after Toño could only push Agirretxe’s cross in to his path. The visitors finally reacted late on, Boakye bringing a good save out of Claudio Bravo and Damián rattling the crossbar with a free kick, but after a fifth defeat in seven games they find themselves just a place above the bottom three.

P.S. Griezmann was later deprived of his hat-trick after the referee considered the first goal to be a Damián Suárez own goal. (27.01.14)

Barcelona and Atlético Madrid didn’t falter on Sunday, both winning their respective matches to move back above Real Madrid in the table. Barcelona put aside the controversy surrounding the resignation of club president Sandro Rosell midweek, beating Málaga 3-0 in the last match of the day to hold on to top spot. The game was preceded by a presentation to Xavi for his 700 appearances for the club, and the team captain tested Willy Caballero early on with a free kick. Alexis also hit the post in the opening minutes and Messi went close, and the visiting keeper was in action again to keep out Dani Alves, Pedro and Jordi Alba. Valdés had work to do at the other end though, in particular from a couple of Duda free kicks, but with five minutes to go to the break Alexis headed a Xavi corner across for Piqué to score his second goal in as many games. Caballero had to save from Fàbregas and Alexis either side of half time, and Piqué headed another corner against the upright, and soon afterwards Messi put Pedro through for him to score the second of the night. Six minutes after that Messi and Pedro combined to set up Alexis for the third, and after that Tata Martino took the opportunity to rest some of his key players and give a run out to Afellay, who was making his first appearance in the Nou Camp in 20 months after a loan spell at Schalke and a couple of serious injuries.

Prior to that though Atlético Madrid had temporarily returned to first place after they won 2-4 at city neighbours Rayo Vallecano. David Villa opened the scoring early on after winning the ball off Raúl Baena following a sloppy clearance by Rubén, Diego Costa playing the rebound back for the striker to steer a shot in to the emty net. The visitors had a chance to level it a few minutes later when Alberto Bueno fell in the penalty area under a challenge by Manquillo, but Courtois guessed correctly and saved Jonathan Viera’s spot kick. A few minutes later Diego costa and José Sosa combined for Arda Turan to fire home a second, and although Viera made up for his mistake with a shot which went in off a defender, Turan restored the two goal cushion on the stroke of half time after Saúl Ñíguez (himself on loan from Atlético) could only head Gabi’s free kick back towards the far post. Saúl further blotted his copy-book when he turned a Filipe Luis cross past his own keeper with a quarter of an hour to go, and two minutes later Larrivey headed another one back for the locals from Viera’s centre. Once again Rayo had put up a brave performance, but the defeat leaves them in next to bottom spot, now five points away from safety.

Athletic Bilbao consolidated fourth spot with a convincing 1-5 victory at regional neighbours Osasuna, Villarreal’s defeat the night before meaning that they have now opened up a five point gap over the fifth placed side. The goals started to flow early on, Susaeta intercepting a poor pass from Loties to score the opener in only the third minute. Seven minutes later Armenteros found a gap in the defensive wall to equalize with a well struck free kick, but five minutes after that Athletic were back in front after Andrés let a low cross from Ander Herrera through his hands, Aduríz reacting quicker than anyone to turn the ball in to the net. Either side of half time Balenziaga headed a Loties effort off the line with the keeper beaten, and Marc Bertrán cut in from the right only to shoot wide. However Aduríz headed his second of the evening from Herrera’s cross on the hour mark, and after Arribas was sent off for a second bookable offence, Ibai Gómez and ex Osasuna striker Kike Sola added two more goals in the last ten minutes

Elsewhere Almería beat Getafe 1-0 in the mid-day kick-off to move back out of the relegation spots. Valladolid’s win on Saturday had left Francisco’s side down in the bottom three, and they were pegged back by their opponents in the first half, Esteban doing well to save from Sarabia when he latched on to a bad back-pass in the fifth minute. Referee Prieto Iglesias incorrectly ruled out a strike by Michel for a non-existent offside, and Rafa headed a Pedro Léon cross against the bar with half time looming. Up to that point the locals had only tested Moyà with a couple of long shots by Aleix Vidal and Suso, but just three minute in to the second half Jonathan Zongo got above his marker to head Suso’s corner in to the net. That took the wind out of Getafe’s sails, and their only real shot on target after that was from a long Pedro León free kick which Esteban kept out. Moyà prevented Vidal from making it two in the last minute, but the locals had three vital points which takes them to within two of Getafe, who are plummeting down the table after six games without a win. . (26.01.14)

With the two leaders not due to play until Sunday, Real Madrid took advantage to move to the top of the table after beating Granada 2-0 on Saturday afternoon. Before the kick off Cristiano Ronaldo presented his “Ballon d’Or” to the crowd, and with the game minutes old he fired a first chance just wide of the post. And for the rest of the first half Madrid were on top, Iturra clearing from Carvalho, Sergio Ramos heading just over the bar, and the excellent Roberto saving a Ronaldo overhead kick. Bale had to go off at half time after receiving a painful kick between the legs, but his replacement Jesé fired a shot in to the side netting soon after the restart. With an hour on the clock Ronaldo finally opened the scoring, picking up a pass from Modric and dummying past his marker before drilling a low shot past the keeper. Soon afterwards Ronaldo rattled the crossbar with a free kick, and a few minutes later Ronaldo combined with Marcelo for the left back to set up Benzema for the second. Another win and another clean sheet for Ancelotti’s side (who have not let in a single goal in 2014), and the warning is clear to the top two – the slightest slip and Madrid will be ready to pounce!

A close fight for the remaining European places though, fifth placed Villarreal missing out on a chance to move above Athletic Bilbao after they lost 1-0 at Valladolid. Giovani fired a shot in to the side netting when free on goal in the opening minutes, but there were virtually no chances at either end after that until two minutes before the break, when Jesús Rueda headed a wide free kick over Asenjo to open the scoring. After the interval Rukavina went close a couple of times, and Diego Mariño had to be at his best to keep out Uche and Jonathan Pereira. Valladolid though were suffering from injuries to their players, Jesús Rueda and new signing Mitrovic having to be attended to after a clash of heads, and Rossi and Oscar limping off, the latter leaving his side with ten men for the last few minutes as all three substitutions had been made. Juan Ignacio Martínez’s side held on though for a vital win which takes them out of the bottom three pending the rest of the weekend games.

Sevilla also failed to capitalize on their Saturday kick off, a 2-3 defeat against Levante leaving them still down in seventh spot. Coke opened the scoring midway through the first half with an impressive shot from outside of the area, but just five minutes later Barral levelled it from the penalty spot after he was brought down in the area by Fazio. Visiting keeper Keylor Navas pulled off a string of impressive saves after the break, in particular from Gameiro, Reyes and Rakitic, and Rakitic fired a penalty kick against the foot of the post after Simao blocked Coke’s shot with his arm. Rakitic did finally give his team the lead again following a short corner, his angled shot appearing to take a slight deflection off a defender to wrong foot the keeper. But three minutes later Vyntra made it all square again with a header from an Ivanschitz corner, and four minutes after that Simao turned the ball in to the net from a couple of yards out after Beto could only block Barral’s header from another Ivanschitz corner. A frantic last few minutes ended with two red cards, Nikos for a hard tackle on Jairo, and Jairo himself for a retaliatory push on Barral who had sent him crashing into the advertising hoardings, but the three points went to the visitors. It was just one of those nights.

Levante move above Valencia and Espanyol, who cancelled each other out in a 2-2 draw earlier in the evening. All the goals came in the first half, Córdoba running on to a clever back-heel pass from Sergio García to score the opener with less than three minutes gone. Four minutes later Paco Alcácer equalized after controlling Banega’s through ball to turn a shot past Casilla, and with just over half an hour on the clock Jonas ran in to head a Piatti corner in to the net to put the locals in front. Colotto had a header cleared off the line soon afterwards though, and with the first half coming to an end Sergio García made it all square once again from the penalty spot after Mathieu tripped Córdoba as he entered the area. After the restart both teams had their chances, the best a shot from Michel which Casilla tipped over the bar, and a good run by Córdoba which ended with the striker firing a shot just wide. The Ches felt they should have had a penalty as well when the ball hit Fuentes on the arm in the area, but in the end they had to settle for a draw which keeps them a point behind the Catalans in the table. (25.01.14)

A third coach of the season for Betis, but the same old result as they lost 4-2 at Celta on Friday evening. Gabriel Calderón saw his new side take the lead with just over a quarter of an hour gone when Rubén Castro bundled Juanfran’s cross in to the net on the far post, but just five minutes later they threw it away when Orellana got behind his marker to head Rafinha’s centre past Sara. And by half time the locals had opened up a two goal gap, Charles heading in Hugo Mallo’s cross on the near post, and then setting up Orellana for a third. With twenty minutes to go Nolito made it four from another Charles assist, and although Castro got another one back after Yoel failed to hold on to a long Salva Sevilla free kick, the goal came too late to change the result. To add to their woes Cedrick got himself sent off for a hard tackle on Rafinha in injury time, and Betis end the day eight points away from safety with the rest of the weekend games to come. A good result though for Luis Enrique’s side against a direct relegation rival, and they move six points clear of the bottom three for now. (24.01.14)