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Match round-up - First Division, Day 34

Málaga are virtually safe for another season after a 2-0 victory over Villarreal in the Monday night game, the result taking Bernd Schuster’s side on to 41 points. Santa Cruz opened the scoring early on after picking up a Samuel pass, and although Caballero had to be at his best to keep out Perbet a couple of times, Santa Cruz, Duda and Antunes all came close to increasing the lead before the interval. Duda almost caught Asenjo off his line with a shot from the halfway line early on in the second half, and soon afterwards Darder latched on to Amrabat’s cross to put the Andalusians further ahead. Amrabat got himself sent off though a few minutes later for gesturing to the referee that he needed glasses (!), but even so Angeleri could have scored a third when he fired a shot over the top later on. Substitute Oliver Torres headed a Jaume Costa cross just wide for the visitors a minute later, but the defeat means they stay seventh, and they still have some work to do if they are to tie up one of the Europa League spots this season. (21.04.14)

Barcelona are not out of the title race just yet, and they remain four points behind leaders Atlético after coming from behind to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 in the last match on Sunday evening. Three devastating defeats in the last ten days had left them out of both cup competitions and struggling in the league, and once again they had problems finding the net, Iraizoz saving from Pedro, Messi and Alexis, Messi having a goal ruled out for offside, Balenziaga clearing off the line from Adriano and Alexis firing a shot against the crossbar from only a yard or so out. Athletic too had their chances, in particular an overhead kick from Aduríz which hit the post, Pinto doing well to save Susaeta’s follow up, and some five minutes in to the second half Aduríz beat Pinto with an angled shot to open the scoring. Susaeta had a strike disallowed for a borderline offside soon afterwards, and Barça continued to waste chances, with Iraizoz saving from Pedro and Messi shooting wide. However with twenty minutes to go Pedro turned a wayward Alexis shot past the keeper to level the scores, and just two minutes later Messi fired home a low free kick to get his side back to winning ways.

The result leaves Athletic just three points clear of fifth placed Sevilla, who visit the San Mamés stadium next weekend in what could be a key match in deciding the fourth Champions League spot. Unai Emery’s side beat regional rivals Granada 4-0 earlier in the evening, Mainz turning a Gameiro cross past his own keeper to give the locals the lead with a quarter of an hour gone. Recio swept a shot just over the bar a few minutes later, but Gameiro brought a good save out of Karnezis, and some five minutes in to the second half the French striker scored his team’s second, helping the ball over the line after a poor Ilori back-pass left his own keeper stranded. With just under an hour gone M’Bia got on the end of Gameiro’s cross to make it three, and ten minutes later Vitolo completed the scoring after a Mainz clearance hit Nyom and bounced kindly for him. El-Arabi did try his luck later on, but having only picked up one point from their last nine away games, Granada end the day just five points above the drop zone.

Sevilla’s city neighbours Betis are now very close to relegation after a 3-1 defeat at Rayo Vallecano left them ten points away from safety with only four games to go. Paulao was so dejected after gifting the opener to Rochina and then turning Arbilla’s cross in his own net that he asked to be substituted with only half an hour gone! Betis did go close after that, ex Rayo forward Leo Baptistao firing a shot over the bar, but soon after the restart Perquis blocked a Rochina shot on the line, and Larrivey picked up the rebound to beat Adán for his side’s third. Larrivey and Iago Falqué both hit the bar after that, and N’Diaye was lucky to be let off a penalty claim when he handled the ball in the area, but with ten minutes to go Chica got a late consolation for the Andalusians, belatedly dedicating his first ever goal to his now deceased old team mates Dani Jarque and Miki Roqué.

The win virtually ensures Rayo another season in the top flight, and Celta are now level with them on 40 points after beating struggling Almería 2-4 in this Sunday’s mid-day kick-off. Rodri fired a shot just wide and then hit the post early on, but Nolito brought a good save out of Esteban soon afterwards, and a couple of minutes later he put the visitors ahead after a good run by Rafinha down the right flank. Esteban kept out Alex López a couple of times after that, but shortly before half time Rodri made it all square, turning the ball past Yoel whilst lying on the ground after Tébar played across a long free kick. Charles restored the lead though against his old team, sliding the ball in on the far post from Nolito’s cross early on in the second half, and with twenty minutes to go Nolito got on the end of Orellana’s cross to make it three. Orellana himself scored a fourth for Luis Enrique’s side after connecting with a pinpoint pass from Rafinha, and a late strike from Oscar Díaz was scant consolation for the Andalusians, who stay in next to bottom spot for another week. (20.04.14)

Real Sociedad are closing in on the Europa League spots, and they moved up to sixth after they came from behind to beat Espanyol 2-1 on Saturday evening. Córdoba put the visitors ahead midway through the first half, picking up Colotto’s pass and turning past his markers to run on and beat Claudio Bravo. However Canales levelled it soon afterwards following a corner with a cross-come-shot which took a deflection off Lanzarote, and before half time they could have scored again, another Canales shot hitting Pardo as it was going in to the net, and Casilla pushing Agirretxe’s shot over the bar on the rebound. Sergio García tried his luck a couple of times after the break, and Seferovic brought a good save out of Casilla, but with the game heading for a draw Vela controlled a long ball from midfield on his chest and ran on past Fuentes to score the winner.

Valencia are about the only team who could catch them, but they lost ground on the rest after they were held to a 1-1 draw at Osasuna. The best chance that the Ches have of a return to Europe though is if they can win this year’s Europa League, and Pizzi rested several key players for Thursday night’s semi-final clash with Sevilla. The locals needed points though to distance themselves from the drop zone, and Oriol Riera gave them the lead in the twentieth minute after Guaita spilled a long shot from Roberto Torres at his feet. Bertran was lucky to be let off a penalty appeal for hands at the other end, but early in the second half Torres came close to a second when his shot hit the post and bounced back across goal. Valencia had hardly troubled Andrés up to that point, but with eight minutes to go Jonas saved a point for the visitors, firing an angled shot which Arribas helped on past the keeper following a rapid counter-attack.

Osasuna remain three points above the drop zone, Getafe staying in the bottom three after they drew 0-0 at Levante. With a difficult programme ahead, the visitors have to pick up points where they can, although they were lucky not to go behind early on when Víctor Casadesús turned Barral’s cross wide of the post from a yard out. For the rest of the first half Cosmin Contra’s team were on top, Keylor Navas having to save from Pedro León, Colunga and Ciprian, but after the restart Xumetra and Babá both struck shots just wide of the mark. Navas had to save a Juan Rodríguez header following a long free kick, but with ten minutes to go Alexis got himself sent off for a second bookable offence, and after that both sides settled for a point. Getafe are now level on points with Valladolid, who are not playing this weekend as their match against Real Madrid has been postponed to the first week of May to give Ancelotti’s team time to prepare the midweek Champions League tie. (19.04.14)

Atlético Madrid extended their lead at the top of the first division to six points pending the rest of the weekend games after beating Elche 2-0 on Friday evening. The visitors put up a good fight though, and Courtois had to be at his best to keep out Javi Márquez and Sapunaru midway through the first half. With his team struggling, Simeone brought on Raúl García at the break, and within minutes he had won his side a penalty after Sapunaru fouled him in the area. Manu Herrera saved Villa spot kick though, and it was not until twenty minutes from the end that Miranda got on the end of a José Sosa corner to head the opener. With a couple of minutes to go Diego Costa got through only to be thwarted by the visiting keeper again, but three minutes later he broke free again, and this time Sapunaru brought him down in the box. A red card for the defender, and Costa drilled home the kick to give his team an eighth straight victory. If Atlético can win their next three league games the title will be theirs, but first of all there is the little matter of the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea to deal with! (18.04.14)