Villarreal consolidated fifth spot with a 3-1 win over Osasuna on Monday evening. Despite missing key players, Marcelino’s side were on top from the start, Uche going close and Andrés having to save from Aquino. Uche lmped off before the break though, but his substitute Perbet got ahead of the visiting keeper to turn in a long Dorado cross at the start of the second half. Ten minutes later Manu Trigueros picked up Giovani’s square pass to fire a shot which Andrés could only help in to the net, and Giovani hit the side netting before Perber added the third, firing an angled shot across the keeper after Jonathan Pereira played on Mario’s throw-in. The visitors did finally get one back late on, substitute Oriol Riera connecting with an Armenteros cross to flick the ball over the head of Asenjo with his heel from the far post, but although Riera headed another chance over, the final whistle went seconds later. (03.02.14)
Atlético Madrid ended Barcelona’s 59 week run at the top of the table after they beat Real Sociedad 4-0 on Sunday evening. Before the kick off there was an emotive tribute to Luis Aragonés who died a couple of days ago, the ex Spain coach first and foremost an Atleti man despite having played for and managed several sides. Both teams had won through their cup quarter finals midweek, albeit that Real didn’t have to play their game after the Racing Santander players pulled out in protest. But the locals started the stronger of the two, Bravo having to save from Diego Costa and David Villa having a strike ruled out for a borderline offside before Villa turned in Costa’s cross to open the scoring. The visitors felt that should have had a penalty when Godín handled in the area shortly after the break, and Ansotegi fired a shot wide following a corner a few minutes later, but with twenty minutes to go Costa ran on to a long through ball from Raúl García to make it two. Just three minutes later Miranda headed in Koke’s corner to put the game beyond the Basque side’s reach, and Diego Ribas signalled his return to the club with the fourth goal after picking up a pass from Cristian Rodríguez near the end. Barcelona’s defeat at Valencia on Saturday means that Simeone’s side are now three points clear at the top, the first time in 18 years that they have been leading the table at this stage of the season.
Real Madrid started their game at fourth placed Athletic Bilbao later in the evening knowing that a win would take them above Barcelona and to within a point of the new leaders, but in the end they had to settle for third place after they were held to a 1-1 draw. Athletic’s defeat against Atlético in their midweek cup tie was the first time they had lost in their new San Mamés stadium, and they were determined not to give in a second time without a fight. Chances were few and far between in the first half, Cristiano Ronaldo trying his luck from long range a couple of times, and Aduríz going close and then having a penalty appeal turned down after he clashed with Sergio Ramos in the area. After the interval Iraizoz had to make a couple of saves from Modric and Benzema, and Ronaldo had a strike ruled out for offside, and a few minutes later Jesé opened the scoring for the visitors after Benzema and Ronaldo combined to set him up. Soon afterwards though substitute Ibai Gómez blasted home the equalizer after Sergio Ramos could only head a long free kick in to his path (the first goal that Madrid had let in for nine games), and a couple of minutes later referee Ayza Gámez sent off Ronaldo after an off-the-ball incident with Gurpegi and Iturraspe. Ibai Gómez and Aduríz tested Diego López after that, but Madrid held fast for a point which takes them level with Barcelona in the table.
Earlier in the afternoon bottom club Betis clocked up only their third league win of the season after beating Espanyol 2-0. The Andalusians had not taken the three points in the league since September, but they had the better chances in the first half, with Salva Sevilla and Rubén Castro both going close. With new manager Gabriel Calderón on the bench (their third coach of the season), the locals kept up the pressure after the restart, and they got their reward with twenty minutes to go when Rubén Castro steered a shot past Kiko Casilla after a shot by Reyes came back off the post. Antonio Adán was playing in goal for the first time since signing from Cagliari in the winter transfer window, but he was not called upon until ten minutes from the end, when he hat to save a dangerous shot from Stuani. However a few minutes later Rubén Castro cut in from the left wing past Abraham to squeeze a shot inside the near post, a relief at last for the long suffering home fans.
Elche moved away from the danger zone thanks to a 1-0 victory over Almería in the Sunday mid-day game, the result taking them two points above their opponents, who are now only one place above the bottom three. Fran Escribà’s side dominated the first half, Manu failing to turn in an Edu Albácar free kick, Esteban saving from Cristian Herrera and Javi Márquez, and Lombán heading a corner over the top. Local keeper Toño’s first save didn’t come until shortly before the break, when he did well to stop a deflected shot by Verza, but some twelve minutes in to the second half the locals took the lead, a shot by Márquez from outside of the area hitting team-mate Cristian Herrera and bouncing in to the net. Almería came back after that, Toño in particular having to save a header from Azeez, but despite having Damián Suárez sent off for a second bookable offence, the home side held on for a vital win. (02.02.14)
A big surprise in the Nou Camp on Saturday afternoon, leaders Barcelona losing 2-3 to Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Valencia. The Catalans had not lost at home in the league since they were beaten by Real Madrid back in April 2012, and they appeared to be on track for another win when Alexis connected with Messi’s cross to loop a shot back over Diego Alves. Busquets and Dani Alves went close, and Diego made a point blank save from Alexis, but Valdés had to save from Feghouli, and with the first half coming to a close Dani Parejo ran on to Feghouli’s return pass to equalize. Three minutes in to the second half Piatti steered a header over the local keeper after a defender headed up Barragán’s cross, but Messi levelled it again from the penalty spot after referee Pérez Montero ruled that Ricardo Costa had handled in the area, even though the ball clearly hit him on the shoulder. With an hour on the clock however Paco Alcácer connected with Feghouli’s cross to restore the lead for the visitors, and Barça’s hopes of a comeback ended when Jordi Alba was sent off for a second bookable offence with twelve minutes to go.
The rest of the top six play later this weekend, but Valencia close up on seventh placed Sevilla, who were beaten 3-2 by regional neighbours Málaga later in the evening. Reyes had an early shot saved by Caballero, but with half an hour gone Duda put the locals ahead from the penalty spot after Coke brought down Camacho in the area. The visitors started the second half well though, Bacca running on to Iborra’s lofted pass to level the scores, and Moreno and Rakitic going close before Fazio headed a long Rakitic free kick past the local keeper. With thirteen minutes left to go though Samuel made it all square again with an impressive shot from the edge of the area, and Duda ensured a much needed three points for the home side after Pablo Pérez set him up late on. The game ended in disarray though after Schuster tried to kick the ball away, players and staff clashing on the touchline before the Málaga coach was shown a second yellow card and sent to the stands.
Levante drop behind city rivals Valencia on goal difference after they were held to a 0-0 draw by next to bottom club Rayo Vallecano. Both keepers were active throughout, Rubén saving from Ivanschitz early on, and Keylor Navas keeping out Larrivey after Raúl Baena’s shot came back off the post, and then turning a Trashorras free kick round the post. An active Barral went close a couple of times before the break, and he and substitute Babá tested Rubén again in the second half. Navas responded with a save from Alberto Bueno after he got free on goal, but in the end both coaches settled for a point.
The match between Getafe and Valladolid also ended without goals, the result leaving the visitors down in the bottom three and their hosts five points above them but without a win in seven games. Neither keeper was particularly troubled throughout the ninety minutes, although the away side had the better chances in the first half, Moyà keeping out a Javi Guerra header, and Rueda Víctor Pérez and Rossi all missing the target. The nearest the locals came to scoring before the break was a long clearance which Mariño misjudged, the ball bouncing over his head but going out for a goal kick. With the game in the final minutes Guerra went close and Diego Castro fired a long shot against the upright, but the frustrated home fans booed off their players after the final whistle. (01.02.14)
Celta beat Granada 1-2 in the Friday night game to move safely up to mid-table. Luis Enrique’s side had already won three times in Andalusia this season, and they went in front with just under half an hour gone when Cabral ran in to head Rafinha’s cross past Roberto from the far post. Yoel had to be on his toes to keep out an El-Arabi header from a long free kick though, and with four minutes to go to the break El-Arabi headed the equalizer from a Fran Rico corner. After the restart Aurtetxe had to clear from Fran Rico and El-Arabi went close, but with a draw seemingly on the cards Roberto could only push out a Krohn-Dehli cross, and Augusto Fernández nipped in to turn in the rebound. It was a second win in a row for the Galicians, and they move a point above their hosts in the table as a result. (31.01.14)