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Match round-up - First Division, Day 25

Villarreal are vying with Basque sides Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad for the last Champions League spot, and they kept themselves in the fray with a 1-2 victory at Espanyol in the Monday night game. Marcelino included the 17 year old Nahuel in his starting line-up, and he tested Kike Casilla early on before crossing in for Moi Gómez put the visitors ahead some ten minutes before the break. Soon afterwards Perbet had an effort cleared off the line by Héctor Moreno, and five minutes in to the second half the French striker made it two, turning the rebound in to the net after Casilla had blocked a shot by Giovani (who was probably in an offside position). Córdoba got one back though after Sergio García set him up with a quarter of an hour to go, and Sergio García wasted a chance to save a point for the locals in the last minute when Asenjo saved his penalty kick after Gabriel had cut out a cross with his hand on the edge of the area. (24.02.14)

Real Madrid stay three points clear at the top of the table after Atlético Madrid were beaten 3-0 by Osasuna in the last match on Sunday evening. The Pamplona based side had already drawn against Barcelona and Real Madrid in their Sadar stadium this season, and this time the game was over by half time, Cejudo opening the scoring in the sixth minute after running in on the blind side of the defence to meet an Armenteros cross and drill a low shot past Courtois. Armenteros himself made it two a few minutes later with a long shot in off the post after Juanfran gave the ball away, and although Diego Costa went close at the other end, Roberto Torres headed in Damià’s centre for a third goal just before the break. Cejudo could have added to the scoreline when he shot just wide after the restart, and although Atlético improved in the last quarter of the game, they were unable to get past Andrés and his defence. Like Barcelona, Atlético appear to have paid the price this weekend for exhausting Champions League game midweek, but Real Madrid have their own European match at Schalke next Wednesday, and with the derby game in the Calderón stadium coming up on Sunday, the three-way tie at the top could soon be restored.

With the first three berths almost sure to be taken by those top three, just one Champions League spot is up for grabs. As things stand, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Villarreal are the main candidates, although Athletic maintain the four point gap over the others after a 0-2 victory at bottom club Betis earlier in the evening. The locals may have grounds for complaint though after several decisions by Gil Manzano went against them, the referee waving away a good penalty claim and booking Rubén Castro for diving on the half hour mark, but then awarding a more than dubious penalty against them when Kike Sola fell under a challenge by Perquis as he was entering the area, Muniain converting the resulting spot kick. A few minutes later Perquis picked up a second booking and was sent off, and Lolo Reyes followed him down the tunnel early on in the second half for the same reason, leaving the locals with nine men. Gil did favour for the Andalusians as well, ruling out a strike by Kike Sola early in the second half for a non-existent offside, but soon afterwards he turned down another penalty claim by the home side when the ball hit Balenziaga on the arm. Apart from all that both sides did have their chances, but with ten minutes to go young substitute Guillermo made sure of the three points, heading in a Susaeta cross less than a minute after coming on.

Meanwhile Valencia and Sevilla kept up their push at least for the Europa League spots with victories on Sunday. Valencia end the weekend in seventh spot, just above Sevilla on the head-to-head record after coming from behind to beat Granada 2-1. Honours were shared in the first half, Mathieu heading wide and Fede bringing a good save out of Roberto, and the visitors replying with efforts by Brahimi, Recio and Fatau. Just two minutes in to the second half however Javi Fuego tried to control a long Nyom cross on his chest, but only succeeded in setting up Piti for him to fire a first time shot past Diego Alves. A quarter of an hour later though Paco Alcácer got on the end of Feghouli’s through ball to lift a shot over Roberto, the referee waving away claims for offside, and only a couple of good saves by the visiting keeper after that prevented Jonas and Alcácer from scoring again. Roberto could do nothing though in the ninetieth minute when Rubén Vezo turned a shot inside the far post after Pereira could only head a Dani Parejo free kick across goal, and Valencia’s rise under Pizzi continues with a sixth game in a row without defeat.

Sevilla stay level with Valencia in the table after they beat Rayo Vallecano 0-1 in this weekend’s mid-day kick-off. Bueno tried a spectacular scissors kick which didn’t come off, and Bacca had a strike ruled out for a clear offside, but otherwise the first half ended without too much work for either keeper. Soon after the restart however Rubén had to save from Rakitic, and Viera fired a shot over the top at the other end, and soon afterwards Coke got on the end of a long Rakitic free kick to head the opener against his old club. Diogo and Rakitic both failed to find the target a few minutes later, and substitute Longo tested Beto with a header soon after coming on. The visitors were left with ten men for the last eight minutes or so when referee Delgado Ferreiro produced a second yellow card for Iborra, who felt himself hard done by as he had just been treated for an injury, but even with Rubén up in the penalty area for a last ditch free kick Rayo were unable to find the equalizer. They remain in next to bottom spot, now six points away from safety after the weekend results. (23.02.14)

Real Madrid move to the top of the table after last week’s leaders Barcelona lost 3-1 at Real Sociedad on Saturday evening. After the midweek Champions League match at Manchester City, Tata Martino made several changes to his line-up, although Messi and Neymar did start together up front for the first time in several weeks. With just over half an hour gone the Basque side took the lead, Alex Song deflecting the ball in to his own net after Elustondo got a head to a Canales cross, but three minutes later Messi equalized with a low shot after Busquets stepped over Montoya’s pass. That was his 229 th in the league, taking him past Raúl as the third highest all-time goalscorer, but after that he hardly appeared, and Vela came close to restoring the lead when he fired a shot over the top shortly before the break. Ten minutes in to the second half Real did go back in front, Griezmann getting on the end of Vela’s cross to slide a shot wide of Valdés, and although Bravo had to be at his best to tip Song’s header over the bar, Zurutuza made it three after running past a passive defence to turn Griezmann’s cross past the keeper. And it could have been worse had Vela not fired a shot against the post when free on goal later on. It was the first time that Barça had lost by two goals or more in the league since September 2010, and with Martino shown a red card for insulting Real’s assistant coach, and Piqué limping off at the end with an injury, the euphoria of that win in Manchester is already a distant memory.

Real Madrid themselves beat Elche 3-0 earlier in the afternoon to move three points clear of their rivals in the table. Only a couple of hours before kick-off Ancelotti was disappointed to learn that the club’s appeal against Ronaldo’s ban was once again turned down, and with the Portuguese striker missing for a third league game in a row and Modric suspended, he was missing two of his key play-makers. The visitors didn’t put up much of a fight though, and Bale and Jesé went close before Illarramendi opened the scoring following a Di María corner, his shot taking a deflection off Manu del Moral to wrong-foot the keeper. After the break though they were unable to make much headway, and the local supporters started to get restless until twenty minutes from the end, when Bale fired a long shot in off the crossbar (timed at over 100 Kph), which gave Manu Herrera no chance. The crowd were back with them, and some ten minutes later Isco began a counter-attack following an Elche corner which he himself finished off after picking up a final pass from Benzema. After a twenty month gap, Madrid are back on top, and although Atlético could still catch their city neighbours when they play tomorrow, the better goal difference means that they are likely to stay there by the end of the weekend.

The other two games on Saturday involved teams in the lower half of the table, Getafe coach Luis García probably saving his job for another week after his side drew 1-1 at Celta. The Madrid based team had gone nine games without a win, but Pedro León went close a couple of times before makeshift striker Lafita controlled a long Juan Rodríguez free kick and turned a first time shot wide of Yoel. The locals fought back, Rafinha and Orellana having shots saved, Orellana firing a long free kick against the top of the crossbar, and Augusto Fernández seeing his effort fly past the outside of the post. Lisandro López responded with a volley which Moyà kept out, but some six minutes in to the second half the Argentinian defender got himself sent off after picking up a second yellow card for a foul on Charles. Soon afterwards Rafinha picked up a long pass by Krohn-Dehli and ran on past three defenders to fire home the equalizer, and Nolito almost won it for the Galicians when his shot came back off the post with the match already in injury time.

Getafe stay just ahead of Almería and Málaga, who cancelled each other out in a dull 0-0 draw later in the evening. Languishing in the lower reaches of the table, neither team could afford to lose against a direct rival in the fight to avoid the drop, and chances were few and far between. The closest either side got to scoring was when Willy Caballero had to turn a header from Trujillo for a corner following a long free kick on the quarter hour mark, and the visiting keeper also had to save a long shot by Aleix Vidal shortly before the break. Duda and Camacho fired shots wide at the other end, but after that they hardly got near Esteban’s goal. Francisco brought on Rodri for the last twenty minutes, his first appearance after a three month injury lay-off, but even he couldn’t find the net, his only shot going well wide. Trujillo put another chance wide in the dying minutes, but this one was always going to end without goals. (22.02.14)

Valladolid remain in the relegation spots, still two points behind Málaga pending their game on Saturday, after they drew 1-1 against Levante on Friday evening. The locals had the better of the opening minutes, Javi Guerra bringing an early save out of Keylor Navas and Peña firing a long shot wide. However midway through the first half it was the visitors who opened the scoring, Víctor Casadesús getting above the defence to head a wide Ivanschitz free kick past Diego Mariño. Javi Guerra made it all square soon after the restart, his shot on the turn deflecting in to the net off a defender, but although Osorio in particular tried his best, the Valencia based team held on to make it seven games in a row without defeat. They are all but safe for another season after moving up to seventh pending the rest of the weekend matches, but Valladolid still have a lot of work to do if they are to stay in the top flight for another year. (21.02.14)