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Match round-up - First Division, Day 30

The four games on Thursday were all pretty similar, teams pushing for the Europa League spots playing teams struggling to avoid relegation. Real Sociedad stay a point behind Sevilla in sixth place after a 1-0 victory over Valladolid in the Anoeta stadium. The Basque side were on top for most of the first half, Jaime having to save from Seferovic before Carlos Vela picked up a chipped pass from Rubén Pardo to lob a shot over the keeper. Jaime did well to tip a long Canales free kick over the bar a few minutes later, and he was called upon again to save from Vela and Seferovic either side of half time. Up to that point only a shot on the turn by Javi Guerra had gone anywhere near the local goal, but the visitors rallied for the last half hour, Oscar forcing a good save out of Bravo and then firing another shot over the bar, and Víctor Pérez curling a free kick just wide of the post. Only one win in nine games though for Juan Ignacio Martínez’s side, and they remain down in the bottom three as a result of the defeat.

Villarreal are still just a point behind Real Sociedad though after a 0-1 win at Getafe, and it looks as if they will be battling it out with Sevilla and the Basque side for pecking order in the three Europa League spots (all trying to avoid seventh place, which means they have to join the competition in the earlier rounds). The visitors took the lead in only the fifth minute, Perbet picking up a long pass from Jokic and turning past Lisandro before beating Codina with an angled shot. The visiting keeper saved from Perbet a few minutes later, with his opposite number Sergio Asenjo keeping out an angled shot from Colunga in reply. Perbet failed to hit the target a couple of times either side of half time, but after that Getafe came back, Pedro León and Lafita going close, and Trigueros almost heading a corner in to his own net. A fourteenth game without a win though for Getafe, and new coach Cosmin Contra has a lot of work to do if his team are to avoid the drop this year.

Valencia end the week in eighth spot after a 2-2 draw at Almería later in the evening, although with the three teams above them winning, they are now eight points off the European places. The Ches got off to the best possible start, Keita intercepting a poor back pass by Torsiglieri to open the scoring with only eight seconds on the clock, the third fastest in the history of the league (Bilbao’s Llorente still holds the record). A few minutes later Esteban had to save from Joao Pereira and Vargas lobbed a shot just over the bar, and with ten minutes to go to the break Vargas ran on to Feghouli’s return pass to make it two. However the locals scored twice in as many minutes after the restart to square the match, Oscar Díaz getting the first with an acrobatic shot after Guaita could only punch out a long effort from Suso, and Corona picking up Soriano’s pass and running past a static defence for the second. Soon afterwards the visiting keeper spilled another shot from Suso, a defender clearing the rebound off the line, and the Ches didn’t react until Pizzi brought on his subs, Esteban doing well to keep out Dani Parejo late on.

Bottom club Betis haven’t given up just yet, and they beat Levante 1-3 to clock up their first league away win in a year. Salva Sevilla was a last minute addition to the line-up after Pauloa pulled out in the pre-match warm up, and he took advantage to open the scoring in the eleventh minute after Rubén Castro’s shot was blocked by Keylor Navas. Adán had to push a shot by Barral on to the post soon afterwards though, and midway through the first half Diop equalized with a low strike after Xumetra laid the ball back to him. Adán did well to keep out Barral and Pedro Ríos either side of the interval, but with twenty minutes to go Vadillo and Leo Baptistao combined to set up Jorge Molina to restore the lead for the visitors. Seven minutes later Rubén Castro made it three after Molina’s cross came to him on the far post, and Baptistao could have netted a fourth had Navas not kept him out near the end. Still seven points away from safety, but the Andalusians won’t surrender until the end. (27.03.14)

How things can change in less than a week! A few days ago Real Madrid were riding high at the top of the table, but after losing to Barcelona at the weekend, a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla on Wednesday night has left them down in third spot. Ancelotti’s side got off to a good start, Bale firing a shot over the top and Beto saving from Benzema before a Ronaldo free kick hit Bacca and deflected in to the net. Just four minutes later Reyes set up Bacca to level the scores, but Madrid were unlucky not to go back in front before the break, Beto saving from Ronaldo and Bale, and Ronaldo lobbing a shot on to the post, Nico Pareja clearing the rebound off the line. With twenty minutes to go however Rakitic left Pepe behind with some clever footwork, and the Croatian midfielder ran on to set up Bacca for his second of the evening. The visitors tried their best after that, with Ronaldo, Marcelo, Bale and Benzema all going close, but the Andalusians held on for a sixth win in a row which keeps them in fifth place in the table.

Real Madrid’s defeat allowed Atlético Madrid moved clear at the top of the table after they beat Granada 1-0 in the Calderón stadium. It was not an easy win though, the Andalusians putting up a good fight, with the result in doubt right up to the final whistle. Arda Turan went close a couple of times early on, and Tiago had a goal ruled out later in the first half for a previous foul by Godín. However Murillo and El-Arabi went close at the other end from a couple of corners, and Insúa and Recio were both lucky to be let off penalty appeals for hand ball. After the break Recio and Villa tried their luck at either end, but some twenty minutes in to the second half Diego Costa decided it with a well-placed header from Sosa’s corner. Not their best performance, but a win is a win, and Simeone’s side are once more leading the pack with eight games to go.

Barcelona stay a point behind Atlético in the table after a comfortable 3-0 victory over Celta. Neymar opened the scoring for the locals early on after Alexis finished off a quick passing move, but there was a serious blow for the team when Víctor Valdés injured himself saving an Orellana free kick soon afterwards, later confirmed as a torn knee ligament which will keep him out for six months or so. With half an hour gone however Messi picked up an Iniesta through ball to round Yoel for the second, and substitute keeper Pinto (himself an ex “Zamora” trophy winner with Celta) made excellent saves from Augusto Fernández (twice) and Santi Mina either side of half time. Midway through the second half Neymar got his second of the evening after picking up a long ball from Alexis before coolly waiting to beat Yoel with an angled shot, but there was bit of concern after that when Pinto lost the ball trying to dribble round Mario Bermejo, and ended up injuring himself against the post. He carried on though to save a couple more times from Bermejo, and Jordi Alba came close to a fourth when he shot just wide near the end.

Further down the table Rayo Vallecano took a giant step towards safety after they beat relegation rivals Osasuna 1-0. Both teams were clearly nervous, and only a couple of long shots by Silva and Bueno troubled either keeper before the break. Bueno had a strike ruled out for offside after Larrivey’s shot came back off the post early on in the second half, and Rubén had to be on his toes to push a long shot by Cejudo around the post. The game appeared to be heading for a draw though until the last minute, when the locals were awarded a penalty after Damìa held on to José Carlos by his shorts, and Larrivey stepped up to drill home the spot kick to take Rayo five points clear of the drop zone. Osasuna though are now only just a point above the bottom three after a fifth defeat in a row. (26.03.14)

The games are coming thick and fast in the run in to the end of the season, with week 30 beginning just a day after week 29 ended. Two matches on Tuesday night, fourth placed Athletic Bilbao inching towards tying up that last Champions League spot with a 0-0 draw at Elche. Wind and rain prevented much creative play, but there were still a few chances, Manu Herrera having to tip a dangerous free kick from namesake Ander Herrera over the bar, and Boakye firing a shot over the top after Rodrigues set him up at the other end. Laporte and Susaeta failed to hit the target with free kicks in the second half, but the locals came closest to scoring, Cristian Herrera and Pelegrín striking shots just wide of the post, and Cisma heading directly at keeper Iraizoz following a corner. No goals, but both teams will probably be happy with a point in the end.

Earlier in the evening Espanyol kept their hopes of European football alive with a 1-2 victory at Málaga. Sergio García gave the Catalans the lead on the half hour mark after picking up a return pass from Stuani, but just two minutes later Pablo Pérez ran on to a Santa Cruz through ball to equalize, Delgado Ferreiro waving away appeals for a clear offside. Caballero had to be at his best to keep out Pizzi and Sidnei before the break, and after the restart Casilla pulled off a good save from Amrabat. With a quarter of an hour to go though the referee turned down a good claim for a penalty on Santa Cruz by Héctor Moreno, and play went right up the other end, Sergio García setting up Pizzi for him to turn a shot inside the far post. Soon afterwards Málaga were left with ten men when Pérez picked up a second booking, and Pizzi came close to a third when Caballero turned his shot on to the post late on. (25.03.14)