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Match round-up - First Division, Day 29

A second seven-goal thriller in 24 hours as Almería beat Real Sociedad 4-3 in the Monday night game to move out of the bottom three. Although this one didn’t have 400 million people watching, it was just as exciting as yesterday’s “clásico”, with the lead changing hands three times, and some controversial refereeing decisions in to the bargain. Carlos Vela opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the twentieth minute after Ayza Gámez ruled that Trujillo had handled the ball deliberately, but some eight minutes later Oscar Díaz equalized after getting ahead of Bravo to lob Soriano’s return pass over the keeper. Esteban had to save a couple of times from Canales and Griezmann after the interval, but Verza got the ball in the net after Soriano headed on a corner only for the referee to incorrectly rule out the strike for offside. Play immediately went up the other end though, and Agirretxe picked up Bravo’s long kick and ran on to lift a shot over Esteban to restore the lead. Soon afterwards however Ayza awarded a penalty to the locals for a foul by Carlos Martínez on Aleix Vidal a yard outside of the penalty area, and Verza stepped up to score. Agirretxe almost netted again when his slow shot was hooked off the line by Mané, but minutes later Almería were given a second penalty with the same two protagonists, this time Vidal falling all too easily under a challenge by Carlos. Again Verza slotted home the spot kick, and again Real made it all square when Bergara headed a wide Chory Castro free kick down past the keeper. Local coach Francisco was sent to the stands for protesting, but not before he had brought on Hicham, and although De la Bella got to Tébar’s pass before him, the young substitute stuck out a foot and deflected the ball in to the net. That took the Andalusians over Getafe and out of the relegation zone, and left their opponents still down in sixth place, a point behind Sevilla in the table. No rest for the wicked though, and tomorrow sees the start of a round of midweek league games. (24.03.14)

“Hay Liga”! Barcelona beat arch rivals Real Madrid 3-4 in an amazing night in the Bernabeu stadium to reduce the gap between the top three to just one point! Tata Martino’s side needed a win to stay in contention for the title, and Iniesta put them ahead after Messi set him up early on. Benzema scored twice in four minutes though to turn the scoreline around, both goals coming from crosses by an active Di María, and the French striker could have completed a hat-trick had Piqué not cleared his shot from off the line minutes later. However with the first half coming to a close Messi levelled things again after picking up a short pass by Neymar, setting off a small altercation between Pepe and Fàbregas which ended with both being shown yellow cards. Soon after the restart Valdés had to be at his best to keep out Benzema following a good run by Bale, but a couple of minutes later referee Undiano Mallenco awarded a penalty to the locals when Dani Alves tripped Ronaldo on the edge of the area, Ronaldo himself converting the spot kick. Some ten minutes later however Undiano gave a penalty at the other end, sending off Sergio Ramos for bringing down Neymar, and Messi stepped up to make it all square for a third time. Ancelotti pulled his troops back to defend as Pedro and Alexis joined the visiting forwards, Alves firing a shot against the post, and with six minutes to go Undiano pointed to the spot again after Iniesta was sandwiched between Dani Carvajal and Xabi Alonso. Once again it fell to Messi to finish things off, and he coolly fired a shot past Diego López to complete his second hat-trick in eight days, giving his team a vital win which takes them once again to within a point of their hosts, and with the head-to-head record in their favour to boot.

All of that meant that Atlético Madrid go back to the top of the table, above their city neighbours on direct goal difference, after beating bottom club Betis 0-2 earlier in the evening. A supportive crowd turned up to cheer their side on after their epic Europa League game midweek, and when youngster Nono (the man who missed the last penalty against Sevilla) came on to replace the injured Amaya, he was given a rousing round of applause. With an intense programme of games on the immediate horizon, Calderón made several changes to his line-up, but even so they held their own throughout a first half in which chances were few and far between. Diego Costa did get the ball in the net close to the break though only for the strike to be incorrectly ruled out for offside, and Juan Carlos replied with a shot against the post in the opening minutes of the second period. The turning point of the game though came soon afterwards when Braian Rodríguez was sent off for a second booking after unnecessarily controlling the ball with his hand, and just three minutes later Gabi picked up a pass from Turan and fired a long shot wide of Adán. Some six minutes later Diego Costa drilled home the second after running on to Koke’s headed pass, and the match was over.

Elsewhere Valencia kept their hopes of a return to Europe alive with a 2-1 victory over sixth placed Villarreal, the result taking them to within six points of their regional rivals in the table. This was a must-win game for the Ches, and in the opening minutes Fede fired a shot just wide and Barragán brought a good save out of Asenjo. Pina went close at the other end, but with ten minutes to go to the interval Javi Fuego latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the area to drive a low shot across the keeper, and with the first half coming to a close the midfielder got his second of the evening after a shot by Mathieu came off the post. Oliver Torres caused a few problems after the break for Guaita, who had replaced the injured Alves midway through the first half, but Keita should have wrapped things up when he shot against the crossbar from only a couple of yards out. With seven minutes to go Giovani intercepted a poor pass by Joao Pereira to get one back, but the locals closed shop after that to protect an important win.

Villarreal drop to seventh after Sevilla beat Osasuna 1-2 in this week’s mid-day kick-off to move two points above Marcelino’s side in the rankings. Like his Betis counterpart, Unai Emery rested several key players following the midweek Euro-derby, and Jairo took advantage of a rare start to open the scoring after picking up a Vitolo pass and cutting past Loties before shooting inside the near post. Fazio headed just over and Damià fired a shot wide in reply a few minutes later, and with the first half coming to a close Jairo turned a Bacca cross against the bar with the goal at his mercy. The rebound fell between Vitolo and Damià however, and the Osasuna full back couldn’t help giving away a penalty for hands which Bacca turned in to the net. Javi Varas replaced the injured Beto at the break, and he was in action straight away to prevent Bacca from scoring in his own net. The Colombian striker hit the post at the right end a few minutes later, and although Acuña pulled one back in injury time following his own corner, the final whistle went seconds later. The Andalusians move up to fifth pending Real Sociedad’s game at Almería on Monday, and Osasuna find themselves once more within two points of the relegation spots. (23.03.14)

Athletic Bilbao are strong favourites at the moment to take the fourth Champions League spot, and they opened up a nine point gap over the teams below them pending Sunday’s games after beating Getafe 1-0 on Saturday evening. The Basque side dominated for much of the first half without causing too many problems for the visiting defence, Codina saving comfortably from Mikel Rico and youngster Guillermo,who was replacing the suspended Aduríz. However with five minutes to go to the break Ander Herrera played a set-piece free kick across the area, and Susaeta curled a shot inside the keeper’s near post to open the scoring. Herrera came close to a second soon afterwards when he fired a long shot wide after Codina had come out of his area to clear from Muniain, and after the restart Codina was in action again to keep out an inswinging Susaeta corner, and shots from Laporte and Herrera. Lafita and Cirpian did bring late saves out of Iraizoz as Cosmin Contra’s team looked to save a point, but they ended the day on the brink of the relegation positions after a fourteenth game in a row without a win.

Espanyol and Levante are both vying for a place in Europe next season as well, although they did themselves no favours after drawing 0-0 in Cornellà. The two teams started level on points, some eight points off seventh placed Sevilla, but the locals had the better of the first half, with Keylor Navas having to save from Héctor Moreno, Pizzi and Sergio García. Héctor Rodas fired a shot wide and Barral brought a good stop out of Casilla either side of half time though, but Vyntra blocked a shot from Simao early on in the second half, and substitute Córdoba poked another effort just wide a few minutes later. With three minutes to go Víctor Casadesús got himself sent off for a lunging tackle on Córdoba, his second red card since joining the Valencia based club in January, but they held on for their sixth score-less draw of the season.

Both teams are virtually safe though, and Granada also moved clear of the danger zone after beating Elche 1-0 earlier in the day. The Andalusians started the match just a point above their opponents, but Recio fired a couple of long shots wide, and Manu Herrera did well to save from Riki as the locals controlled the opening minutes. Javi Márquez tested Roberto with a long shot after the break though, and he felt himself unlucky not to be awarded a goal when the keeper appeared to carry his wide free kick over the line soon afterwards. However a few minutes later Damián Suárez slipped whilst taking a free kick on the half way line, delivering the ball to El-Arabi who ran on to set up Brahimi to open the scoring. Ten minutes later Granada were awarded a penalty when Sapunaru was shown a second yellow card for a foul on El-Arabi, but Fran Rico fired his spot kick against the post. In the end though it didn’t matter, and only a good save by Herrera prevented Murillo from adding a second near the end.

Rayo Vallecano stay three points above relegation rivals Valladolid after holding them to a 1-1 draw in the Nuevo Zorrilla stadium. Paco Jémez’s side had climbed out of the bottom three recently after a run of three victories in a row, but they found themselves behind early on following a corner, Arbilla’s attempted clearance hitting Zé Castro in the face and bouncing back towards goal. Gálvez did hook the ball clear though from the goalmouth, but referee Mateu Lahoz and his assistant ruled that it had crossed the line before the defender got to it. With the first half coming to a close however, ex Rayo striker Alberto Bueno latched on to a long ball from Trashorras to turn a first-time shot past Jaime (who was making his first league appearance in goal this season), and the local keeper had to be at his best to save from Larrivey soon after the break. Rochina tested Jaime again later on, but Oscar missed a couple of good chances near the end to win it for the home side. It was not to be though, and they stay in the bottom three for another week. (22.03.14)

Málaga are a step close to safety after they beat Celta 0-2 in this week’s Friday night game. The two teams needed points to ensure another season in the top flight, and Krohn-Dehli and Samuel both fired shots against the crossbar in the opening minutes. Midway through the first half though Santa Cruz connected with a Duda cross, and although Yoel got a hand to push the shot away, Camacho was waiting on the far post to turn the ball in to the net. And just eight minutes later Camacho was in the right place once again to head a wide Duda free kick inside the near post for his team’s second. Nolito went close a couple of times either side of half time as Luis Enrique’s side tried to get back in the game, and some twenty minutes in to the second half the Andalusians were left with ten men when Duda was shown a straight red card for kicking out in retaliation against Rafinha. Charles had a headed goal ruled out for offside soon afterwards, and Nolito curled another shot wide of the post, but once again the Galicians had dropped points at home, and their opponents (who clocked up a third clean sheet in a row away from home) move a point above them in the table. (21.03.14)