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Match round-up - First Division, Day 26

Real Madrid stay in top spot after they held Atlético Madrid to a 2-2 draw on Sunday afternoon! A win for Simeone’s side and it would have been back to the three way tie at the top, but with only three minutes gone Benzema got on the end of a Di María cross to put the visitors ahead. Courtois had to be at his best to prevent Benzema and Ronaldo from increasing the lead, but Diego Costa caused a few problems for Diego López and his defence, and with just under half an hour on the clock Koke made it all square with an angled shot after picking up an assist from Turan. Before the half time whistle Atlético went in front, Gabi’s shot beating the visiting keeper following a short free kick, and Costa came close to a third when his header bounced down and over the bar soon after the restart. Nerves were fraying, and Atleti’s assistant coach Mono Burgos had to be dragged from the pitch after threatening the referee when Costa got booked for diving in the area. Benzema and Ronaldo could have levelled the scores however, and with eight minutes to go Ronaldo saved a point for Ancelotti’s side after Carvajal and Bale combined to set him up. Atlético still have the head-to-head in their favour, but their city rivals remain three points above them in the table.

Barcelona closed to within a point of Madrid after they beat Almería 4-1 later in the evening. As usual the Catalans camped out on the edge of their opponents’ penalty box for much of the game, Esteban having to save from Dani Alves before Alexis opened the scoring when the keeper could only push out a Fàbregas shot. Messi made it two with a long free kick midway through the first half, but Valdés had to keep out a Corona free kick at the other end, and from the resulting corner Trujillo headed one back. After the interval Valdés prevented Aleix Vidal from equalizing, but Neymar went close a couple of times, and with seven minutes to go Puyol got a third for the locals after Messi’s header came back off the bar. That ended Almería’s challenge, and with a minute or so to go Xavi fired home a fourth for what in the end was a flattering result. The defeat leaves Francisco’s side just three points and one place above the drop zone.

Athletic’s win on Friday has opened up a six point gap over the two teams vying with them for the last Champions League spot after both faltered, fifth placed Villarreal being held to a 1-1 draw by bottom club Betis on Sunday lunchtime. Tired but euphoric after their midweek win at Rubin Kazan (which sets up a next round tie with city neighbours Sevilla), the visitors held their own in a quiet first half, keepers Adán and Asenjo having to save from Moi Gómez and Leo Baptistao. With twenty minutes to go however referee Iglesias Villanueva awarded a hotly disputed penalty to the locals when Chica got a foot to the ball but also brought down Uche, Bruno stepping up to convert the spot kick. Eight minutes later though Uche was sent off after picking up a harsh second yellow card, and with five minutes left on the clock Rubén Castro headed the equalizer from Didac’s cross. That set up a frantic last few minutes, with the two keepers making important stops from Giovani and N’Diaye in injury time.

Later in the evening sixth placed Real Sociedad were beaten 1-0 by Sevilla, who move up to within five points of their hosts in the table as a result. The Andalusians started well, Bravo having to save an early Rakitic free kick and Reyes firing a shot against the top of the crossbar. Canales and Geizmann tested Beto at the other end, but Bravo was in action again before the break to keep out a Bacca header. With an hour on the clock Bacca got the ball in the net only for the referee to rule that the ball had gone out of play in the build up, and the visiting keeper did well to stop another dangerous Rakitic free kick. Beto responded with a save from a Griezmann header, but with a quarter of an hour to Gameiro ran on to a Diogo through ball, and although Bravo got a hand to his first shot, the French striker ran on to run the rebound in to the net for the winner.

Sevilla now occupy seventh position after their closest rivals Valencia lost 1-0 at Rayo Vallecano in the last match of the weekend. Both sides rattled the woodwork early on, Paco Alcácer turning a centre on to the bar and Larrivey firing a shot against the upright soon afterwards. Alcácer and Larrivey both went close later in the first half, and Diego Alves almost gifted a goal to Bueno when he miskicked a clearance shortly before the break. Michel fired a free kick just wide of the post after the restart, but with just over an hour on the clock Larrivey got on the end of Rat’s long cross to head the ball down past Alves. The Ches felt they should have had a penalty when the ball hit Gálvez on the arm, but any hopes of a comeback ended when Barragán was sent off for a second bookable offence with a quarter of an hour to go. The win takes the Madrid based side to within three points of safety. (02.03.14)

Levante are back up to seventh pending Sunday’s games after they beat Osasuna 2-0 on Saturday afternoon. Diop fired the locals in to an early lead after Rubén García laid back an Ivanschitz cross, and although Oriol Riera poked a shot just wide, Rubén made it two after controlling a long Juanfran free kick shortly before the break. The locals were left with ten men for the last half hour or so though after Víctor Casadesús was sent off for a tackle from behind on Cejudo, and Keylor Navas had to make stops after that from Riera, Armenteros and Acuña as the visitors came out looking to take advantage of their numerical superiority. Levante held on though to take their unbeaten run to eight games.

Later in the evening Elche moved clear of the danger zone after a 1-0 win over Celta, the result taking them to within a point of their opponents in the table. The locals came close to scoring early on, Manu del Moral heading against the upright and Edu Albacar firing a long free kick against the crossbar. Sant Mina brought a good save out of Manu Herrera and Orellana struck a free kick just wide, but Cristian Herrera headed an Albacar cross past the post on the stroke of half time. The local keeper had to be at his best to keep out another Orellana free kick and a double follow up by Fontàs after the interval, but with six minutes to go substitute Carles Gil picked up a return pass from Coro and cut in to score what was to prove the only goal of the game.

Valladolid stay down in the bottom three though despite a 1-1 draw at Málaga, who themselves remain just three points above their opponents in the table. The Andalusians started well, Camacho and Iakovenko bringing good saves out of Diego Mariño before Santa Cruz got on the end of a Duda corner to head the opener. Javi Guerra headed just wide in reply though, and with half an hour on the clock Larsson equalized after Sergio Sánchez failed to clear a Rukavina cross, the ball hitting Manucho and falling kindly for the Swedish forward to score. After the break both sides could have scored, Santa Cruz heading wide and Mariño tipping over a wide Duda free kick at one end, and Oscar hitting the bar and Javi Guerra coming up against Caballero at the other, but in the end a draw was a fair result.

Málaga stay a point below Getafe, who could only draw 0-0 at home to Espanyol. Luis García’s side had gone ten games without a win, and although they had the better chances, once again they could not find the route to goal. Visiting keeper Casilla had to save from Lafita and Ciprian early on, Sidnei shooting off target at the other end and Sergio García seeing his effort deflected wide for a corner. Casilla was in action later on to keep out Lafita and Pedro León, and his opposite number Moyà stopped Córdoba before injuring himself and having to be replaced by Codina. Another disappointing result for Getafe though, and García may not have much longer left at the club if things don’t improve quickly. (01.03.14)

Most of the top teams play on Sunday, with Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid meeting each other in the evening to decide who goes top (Barcelona permitting), but meanwhile Athletic Bilbao consolidated fourth place after a 4-0 win over a depleted Granada in the Friday night game. Aduríz helped himself to a hat-trick, the first a header down past Roberto from Iraola’s cross in the seventh minute, and the second a shot in off the post some ten minutes later. Muniain and Iturraspe both went close after the break, and with just over a quarter of an hour to go Aduríz got his third from the penalty spot after Mainz was shown a red card for bringing down the striker in the area. Soon afterwards Gurpegi rounded things off with a lob back over Roberto after the keeper punched clear a Muniain cross, and the Basque side could have won by a bigger margin had Roberto not kept out Muniain a couple of times near the end. (28.02.14)