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Match round-up - First Division, Day 31

Betis are already looking doomed to relegation after they lost 1-2 to Málaga on Monday evening, a result which leaves them eight points away from safety. Calderón’s team took the lead when Willy Caballero let a long shot from Lolo Reyes through his hands with half an hour gone. However Adán had to save from Santa Cruz before that, and early on in the second half Jesús Gámez drilled a shot just wide of the post. Leo Baptistao put a good chance over the top a few minutes later, but with seven minutes to go substitute Juanmi got on the end of Amrabat’s cross to turn a shot past the local keeper and make it all square. That set up a frenetic last few minutes, Caballero making the save of the night from N’Diaye, and Santa Cruz shooting just wide after a great run by Juanmi. With three minutes to go though Rascandani stepped over another Amrabat cross, and Darder ran in to pick up the ball and fire a shot in to the roof of the net. Even so Betis could have saved a point when Camacho wrestled down N’Diaye in the area, but Rubén Castro fired the resulting spot-kick against the bar. A point wouldn’t have been too much good anyway, but a defeat was disastrous, and with their next game in the Nou Camp, Betis could already be a second division side within a week or two.

Málaga themselves are now five points above the drop zone, a point above Granada, who were beaten 0-2 by Levante earlier in the evening. The Andalusians had won their last three home games, and they were amazed and upset when referee Alvarez Izquierdo awarded them an early penalty after David Navarro handled in the area, but then altered his mind after consulting his linesman, changing the decision to a corner. El-Arabi brought a good save out of Keylor Navas later in the first half, but Roberto pushed a shot by Rubén García on to the crossbar shortly before the interval, and three minutes in to the second half Navarro put the visitors ahead with a shot which Roberto could only deflect in to the net after a couple of efforts by Simao had been blocked. Most of the chances after that fell to the visitors, and with two minutes to go Pedro López wrapped things up with an individualist goal to take his side on to forty points, which should see them good for another season in the top flight. (31.03.14)

Athletic Bilbao are a week closer to securing the fourth Champions League spot after none of the teams directly below them were able to win. Sixth placed Real Sociedad were held to a 1-1 draw by neighbours Osasuna on Sunday evening, a result which, although taking them level with Sevilla, still leaves them six points behind Valverde’s side in the rankings. The San Sebastian based team got off to a good start, Chory Castro picking up Vela’s square pass to open the scoring in the seventh minute. Riera headed a couple of free kicks wide of the mark in reply, but Agirretxe tested Andrés from another free kick at the other end, and soon after the restart Zurutuza went close following a long throw-in, and Iñigo Martínez almost caught the local keeper off his line with a shot from the halfway line which bounced off the crossbar. With an hour on the clock however Riera finally found the target from a Roberto Torres free kick, and in a frantic last few minutes Bravo had to be on his toes to keep out Silva, Lobato and Torres. In the end though just a point for the locals, and although it puts an end to a run of five defeats in a row, results elsewhere meant that they drop back in to the relegation spots.

Villarreal could also only draw 1-1 against their regional rivals Elche, and they remain a point behind Sevilla and Real Sociedad in the table. The early chances fell to Marcelino’s side, Perbet failing to hit the target on two occasions, both from Cani crosses. With just over half an hour gone though the visitors went ahead, Damián Suárez converting a penalty after the referee ruled that Perbet had fouled Botía inside the area, and soon afterwards Sergio Asenjo had to save a long shot from Javi Márquez. However with the first half coming to a close a long build up ended with Moi Gómez lobbing the ball in to the area, and Jonathan Pereira was on hand to hook a shot past Manu Herrera. After the break the home side went close a few times, Cani and Perbet shooting just wide and Jaume Costa bringing a good save out of Herrera, but the visitors held on for a valuable draw which keeps them two points above the drop zone for the time being.

Eighth placed Valencia were unable to close up on the Europa League places however after they fell to a 1-3 defeat at the hands of Getafe in the last match of the evening. Vargas headed the Ches in to an early lead from a Dani Parejo corner, but soon afterwards Guaita was called in to action to keep out a couple of efforts from Ciprian. Midway through the first half Lafita picked up a long pass from Juan Rodríguez before firing a low shot in off the far post to equalize, and just two minutes later Ciprian got in front of the defence to head Escudero’s cross past the local keeper for his side’s second. Parejo headed against the bar and Vargas brought a reaction save out of Codina before the break, and after the restart the visiting keeper made further stops from Fuego and Senderos, and Alcácer fired in a shot which bounced down off the crossbar on to the line. However with two minutes to go Pedro León made it three on a quick counter-attack, and there were red cards for Mathieu, Cosmin Contra and the Valencia assistant manager as celebrations got out of hand. Getafe can be forgiven for their over-exuberance though as the win was their first in sixteen games, and they move out of the bottom three as a result.

Valladolid are also out of the relegation spots after they beat fellow strugglers Almería 1-0 in this week’s mid-day kick-off. The only goal came early on, Manucho getting on the end of Oscar’s cross to turn the ball in on the far post. And after that the locals had the better of the first half, Esteban having to save from Javi Guerra and Manucho. Suso finally tested Jaime later on in the first half, and after the interval Aleix Vidal also fired a shot across the face of the goal, but Esteban kept out Larsson, and Alvaro Rubio and Jesús Rueda both went close with well struck free kicks, the latter brushing the crossbar. Any chance Almería had of saving a point ended when Torsiglieri picked up a second booking, and the East coast side drop below their hosts into the bottom three, albeit that they are still only three points behind thirteenth placed Rayo Vallecano. (30.03.14)

No change at the top this weekend as all three leaders won their respective matches. Atlético Madrid stay in first place however after they beat fourth placed Athletic Bilbao 1-2, their second win in the new San Mamés stadium after knocking the Basque side out of the cup earlier in the season. Athletic did take the lead early on, Muniain running on to a long San José clearance to lob a shot over Courtois. But Diego Costa went close a couple of times after that, and midway through the first half he ran on to equalize after Sosa cut out Iturraspe’s attempted pass. Raúl García and Susaeta both went close before the break as both sides wrestled for control, and after the restart Costa fired a shot just wide and then felt he should have had a penalty when tripped by Laporte inside the area. Soon afterwards though Koke headed the visitors in to the lead after a cross by Filipe Luis deflected across to him, and although there were chances at either end in the last half hour or so, the scoreline remained unmoved.

Barcelona remain a point behind Simeone’s side after they won 0-1 against city neighbours Espanyol, although it took a late controversial penalty for them to secure the three points. Both teams had chances in the first half, Neymar and Messi firing shots at Kiko Casilla, Messi lobbing a header just over the bar and Neymar failing to hit the target a couple of times, and Sergio García and in particular Pizzi shooting just wide of the target. After the interval Alex Fernández tested Pinto for the first time, and Piqué hit the bar at the other end following a corner. With a quarter of an hour to go however referee Clos Gómez awarded a penalty to the visitors after Javi López handled the ball, the referee ignoring appeals from Espanyol that Neymar had played the ball with his arm beforehand, and Messi stepped up to score from the spot. Soon afterwards Casilla was sent off for blocking a Messi lob with his hands outside of the area, and with all three changes made, López had to go in goal, the defender preventing Alexis from scoring a second.

Real Madrid are still two points behind Barça after a comfortable 5-0 victory against local rivals Rayo Vallecano. After two defeats in a row there were whistles from some of the local fans at various points during the match, but Ronaldo gave Ancelotti’s side an early lead after picking up a pass from Gareth Bale and running on to beat Rubén. Benzema and Bale both wasted chances before the break, and ten minutes in to the second half Ronaldo played Bale’s cross back for Carvajal to score his first goal for the club. Saúl headed against the post and Jonathan Viera struck a long free kick just past the upright as the visitors tried to get back in to the game, but soon afterwards Bale scored twice in as many minutes, turning in a cross from Di María, and then running on from his own half following a Rayo corner to shoot low past the keeper. After that the Madrid players were queuing up to score, Ronaldo selfishly missing a couple of opportunities before substitute Morata curled a shot wide of Rubén to complete the scoring.

Despite their defeat, Athletic Bilbao stay in the last Champions League spot, still six points clear of fifth placed Sevilla after the Andalusians were beaten 1-0 by Celta. The Galicians had not won at home in two months, and they were lucky not to go behind early on when Gameiro had a strike ruled out for a borderline offside. Yoel did well to save from Gameiro a few minutes later, and Celta’s first attempt at goal didn’t come until shortly before half time, when Nolito’s header was kept out by Javi Varas, who was replacing the injured Beto, and who played on loan in Vigo last season. After the interval Yoel had to tip an effort from Coke around the post, but Orellana crashed a shot against the crossbar, and Hugo Mallo went close soon afterwards. The only goal came though with three minutes to go when Fazio blocked a cross with his arm in the area, Nolito converting the resulting penalty to end Sevilla’s run of six wins in a row. (27.03.14)