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Match round-up - First Division, Day 23

Fourth placed Athletic Bilbao opened up a four point gap over the teams below them after they drew 0-0 at Celta on Monday night. The locals had the better chances, with Santi Mina volleying a shot wide, Iraizoz tipping another effort from Rafinha over the bar, and Charles hitting the post a couple of minutes before the break. Athletic’s first effort anywhere near goal came when Muniain curled a shot wide of the far post with a quarter of an hour to go, although only quick reactions by Cabral prevented Kike Sola from getting on the end of a De Marcos cross a few minutes later. With the game coming to an end Rafinha fired a long shot wide and Bermejo headed Jonny’s cross over the bar, but in the end both coaches settled for a point. (10.02.14)

A three-way tie at the top of the table after Barcelona beat Sevilla 1-4 in the last match on Sunday night! Tata Martino’s side started the day in third place, and things looked grim when Alberto Moreno opened the scoring for the locals with a shot which took a deflection off Marc Bartra. Bacca headed a Rakitic free kick against the post soon afterwards and Rakitic himself fired a shot just wide, but with just over half an hour gone Alexis headed the equalizer from Messi’s free kick, referee Antonio Teixeira Vitienes waving away appeals for offside. With the rain pouring down heavily Messi ended the debate about whether he had lost his form with two well taken goals either side of half time, the first after Pedro set him up on a quick breakaway, and the second with a shot in off the post following an Iniesta assist. Valdés had to be at his best to keep out Bacca and Gameiro however, but with two minutes to go Fàbregas wrapped things up to take the Catalans back up to first place, above Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid on goal difference.

Sevilla stay seventh, now six points behind Real Sociedad after the Basque team could only draw 0-0 at home to Levante earlier in the evening. The hero of the night though was once again Keylor Navas, the Costa Rican keeper making a string of saves, particularly in the first half from Agirretxe and Griezmann. Levante’s only real shot at goal came on the stroke of half time when Claudio Bravo turned an effort from Barral around the post, but for the rest of the game Bravo was just another spectator. Chory Castro and Seferovic failed to hit the target after the break, and Arrasate eventually turned to Carlos Vela, who he had been resting for Wednesday night’s cup semi-final. The Mexican striker went close within minutes, and then got the ball in the net only to be pulled up for a borderline offside, but even he couldn’t break down Caparrós’s numantine defence.

Further down the table Osasuna moved four points clear of the relegation spots after a 2-0 win over Getafe in the Sunday mid-day game. Borja missed a great chance to put the visitors in front in the first minute when he headed wide after Andrés couldn’t hold on to a free kick, but five minutes later Oriol Riera beat the offside trap to run on to a long clearance from defence and lob a shot over the head of Moyà. Lafita headed wide and Moyà saved from De las Cuevas as both sides wrestled for control, but no less than four players limped off with injuries in the five minutes before the break, Ciprian, Puñal, Rafa and De las Cuevas. Ciprian’s replacement Colunga caused a couple of problems for Andrés, and Moyà did well to keep out Armenteros, but with two minutes to go the locals cleared the ball from defence, and Roberto Torres ran on from his own half to beat the visiting keeper for a second time. The victory takes the Pamplona based side level on points with their opponents, who have not won now since the end of November.

Elche are just above Getafe and Osasuna on goal difference after they drew 2-2 at struggling Valladolid. The heavy rain which had fallen throughout the day made playing conditions difficult, and there were few chances until Coro put the visitors ahead after Cristian Herrera played a Sapunaru throw-in across goal. The locals started well in the second half, Manucho having a headed goal ruled out for a marginal offside decision, and Toño saving at point blank range from Rukavina, but Elche scored again in their frst real attack, Manu del Moral poking a shot past the keeper after Sapunaru headed back a Márquez corner. Juan Ignacio Martínez brought on Osorio though, and within ten minutes the substitute had levelled the scores, first of all volleying a shot over Toño after Manucho chested the ball through, and then getting between two defenders to head Jeffren’s corner down in to the net. Despite the result however, Valladolid remain in the bottom three. (09.02.14)

Another amazing night of football in La Liga, with Real Madrid taking over top spot pending Barcelona’s game at Sevilla on Sunday. Ancelotti’s side were missing the suspended Ronaldo, but they were still able to clock up a comfortable 4-2 victory against fifth placed Villarreal. Although Giovani was unlucky to be pulled up for a non-existent offside when he got free early on, Gareth Bale opened the scoring after he won the ball off Dorado and ran through to lob a shot over Sergio Asenjo. Twenty minutes later Benzema got on the end of Bale’s cross to make it two, and although Mario cut in from outside of the area to get one back three minutes before the break (the first goal Madrid had let in at home in over three months), Di María and Carvajal could both have restored the two goal cushion either side of half time. Midway through the second half Jesé ran on to a Di María through ball to score his side’s third, but once again the visitors came back, Giovani beating Diego López with a well struck free kick. Jaume Costa was lucky to be let off a penalty appeal a few minutes later when Arbeloa’s shot hit him on the arm, but Benzema wrapped things up with his second of the night after Jesé passed across from lerft of the area with a quarter of an hour to go.

That left Madrid a goal short of overtaking Atlético Madrid, but a surprise 2-0 defeat at Almería for last week’s leaders in the last match of the evening meant that their city rivals edged past them on goal difference. Looking to bounce back from their midweek cup defeat, the visitors dominated the first half, Diego going close a couple of times and Diego Costa and Manquillo having penalty appeals turned down by referee Fernando Teixeira Vitienes. Juanfran was also let off a penalty though when the ball hit him on the arm, and with a quarter of an hour to go a shot by Aleix Vidal beating Aranzubia before hitting both posts before bouncing clear. The reserve keeper was making his first league appearance of the season in place of the injured Courtois, and with ten minutes to go he was unable to keep out a speculative cross from Verza which flew over his head in to the net. Five minutes later the referee showed him a red card and awarded a controversial penalty after he scrambled back to recover the ball from Zongo, and with all three changes made, Gabi had to take over in goal. Verza coolly stepped up to convert the spot kick though for a much needed win which takes the East coast side away from the danger zone.

Earlier in the day Valencia continued their return to form under new manager Juan Antonio Pizzi, a 5-0 win against Betis taking them up to eighth. New signing Vargas went close a couple of times for the locals, and with five minutes to go to the break Mathieu got on the end of his corner to head the opener. And a couple of minutes later Vargas crossed in again following a throw in for Paco Alcácer to turn the ball past Adán for the second. Diego Alves was only really called upon once to keep out an Amaya header soon after the interval, but a few minutes later Alcácer played on a long Parejo clearance for Feghouli to run on and score the third. Alcácer himself headed the fourth from Barragán’s cross five minutes after that, and Vargas rounded off an impressive home debut with his team’s fifth after Jonas put him through with ten minutes to go. It was a first defeat for the new Betis coach Gabriel Calderón, and the Andalusians end the day even further adrift at the foot of the table.

Rayo Vallecano, the team immediately above Betis, moved to within two points of safety however after they beat Málaga 4-1. Paco Jémez’s side had dropped down in to the relegation zone after six home defeats in a row, but midway through the first half Iago Falqué ran through from wide on right to beat Willy caballero from a wide angle, and just two minutes later Arbilla made it two with a shot which took a deflection off Camacho. Larrivey added the third on the stroke of half time from the penalty spot after Sergio Sánchez was sent off for pulling down the striker in the area, and Falqué got his second of the evening after picking up Larrivey’s back-heel pass and running on to fire a shot under the keeper some twenty minutes after the restart. New boy Iakovenko got a late consolation for the visitors just minutes after coming on for his debut, but it was another defeat for Bernd Schuster’s side, who are now just four points above their hosts in the table. (08.02.14)

Espanyol put in their claim for a place in Europe next season after beating Granada 1-0 in this week’s Friday night game. Córdoba missed a chance to open the scoring for the locals midway through the first half, but soon afterwards they were left with ten men when Víctor Alvarez was shown a red card for bringing down El-Arabi as he advanced on goal. Even so they were the better side after that, Roberto having to save from Stuani before the break, and from a couple of Hector Moreno headers either side of half time. El-Arabi did come close to an equalizer when he lobbed a shot against the crossbar on the hour mark, but with ten minutes to go Moreno got on the end of a Sergio García corner to head home what was to prove the winner. (07.02.14)