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Match round-up - First Division, Day 35

Celta are safe for another season after a 4-1 victory over Valladolid on Monday evening. The visitors had not let in a goal for three games, but they were clearly suffering from a 17 day period without competitive football, and only the posts prevented Charles and Nolito from scoring early on. Jaime did well to get a touch to deflect Orellana’s shot just wide of the post soon afterwards, but he could do nothing to prevent Nolito from turning in Orellana’s cross with seven minutes to go to the break. Less than a minute later Charles ran on to an Orellana through ball to make it two, and the Galicians added two more immediately after the restart, Madinda playing on Aurtenetxe’s centre for Nolito to fire a shot past the keeper, and then crossing in for Mitrovic to slide the ball in to his own net under pressure from Charles. Mario Bermejo should have scored a fifth after picking up an atrocious back pass by Bergdich, the disconsolate wing-back in a flood of tears after being replaced soon afterwards. And although Manucho did head one back from Oscar’s centre later on, Juan Ignacio Martínez’s side couldn’t prevent a defeat which leaves them in next to bottom spot, albeit with a game in hand on all their rivals. (28.04.14)

Atlético Madrid are a step closer to a first league title in 18 years after beating Valencia 0-1 on Sunday afternoon. This was probably the most difficult game they had left in the run in to the end of the season, especially as Simeone’s side are in the middle of a grueling Champions League semi-final with Chelsea. The Ches are also involved in a Europa League semi-final with Sevilla though, and with an outside chance still of making it in to the top seven they got off to a good start, Paco Alcácer firing a shot just wide early on. Villa and Koke went close at the other end however as Atleti started to wrest control from their hosts, and some three minutes before the break Raúl García got in front of the stranded Guaita to head a long Gabi free kick in to the net. Guaita made up for his mistake with two top class saves from Diego Costa after the interval, Jonas having a header blocked by Filipe Luis and Feghouli shooting inches wide of the post in reply. With the game in injury time Juanfran got himself sent off for bringing down Piatti from behind as he advanced on goal, but the final whistle went soon afterwards. A vital victory for Atleti, and if they win their next two fixtures against Levante (away) and Málaga (at home) they will be champions, irrespective of the outcome of their last game in the Nou Camp.

Barcelona meanwhile stay within four points of Atlético after they came from two goals down to win 2-3 at Villarreal. As in all grounds this weekend, there was an emotive minute’s silence in memory of their ex coach Tito Vilanova, who sadly died of cancer at the age of only 45 just a couple of days ago. As usual Barça had the majority of possession, Messi bringing a good save out of Sergio Asenjo early on. But the locals were looking dangerous on the counter-attack, Bartra having to clear off the line from Aquino (one of two early substitutes due to injuries to Perbet and Pina), and Cani opening the scoring after running on to a through ball from the other substitute Pereira on the stroke of half time. Asenjo had to save from Messi a couple of times after the restart, but some ten minutes in to the second half Manu Trigueros put the locals further in front with a well directed header past Pinto from Aquino’s cross. Asenjo kept out a Messi free kick and Iniesta shot just wide, but disaster struck for Marcelino’s side when Gabriel and then Musacchio put though their own net, both times from Dani Alves crosses. Asenjo kept out another Messi free kick soon afterwards, with seven minutes to go Messi finally beat the keeper after Fàbregas headed across a chipped pass from Busquets. There was a late scare for the visitors when referee Fernández Borbalán seemed to award a penalty for a foul by Busquets on Aquino, only for him to eventually give a free kick on the edge of the area, but they held on to dedicate the win to Tito.

Villarreal are still looking good for the third Europa League spot though, and Athletic Bilbao are closing in on the fourth Champions League place after a 3-1 victory over their closest rivals, Sevilla. The Basque side took the lead early on, Susaeta scoring directly from an inswinging corner which crept inside the near post, and Aduríz went close a couple of times before the break, in particular with a clever back-heel just wide of the post. Some ten minutes in to the second half Muniain score the second with a first time volley from a long Iraola cross, and the visitors were left with ten men a few minutes later after Diogo Figueiras was shown a second yellow card for a gesture suggesting the referee was out of his mind! Two minutes later Ander Herrera wrapped things up with a header past Beto from another Iraola centre, and although Gameiro got a late consolation for the visitors with ten minutes to go, it was too late to change the result. Athletic end the weekend six points clear of Unai Emery’s side, and with the head-to-head record in their favour as well, one win in their last three games will ensure Valverde’s side that much sought after fourth golden ticket for the top European competition.

Further down the table Almería kept their hopes of survival alive after coming from behind to beat Espanyol 1-2 in this Sunday’s mid-day game. Both teams had been struggling in recent weeks, the Andalusians having lost their last four games and their hosts having only picked up one point in that time. But Aguirre’s side had the better of the first half, Córdoba and Sergio García going close, and Stuani heading them into the lead from a Sergio García cross with three minutes to go to the break. Stuani got himself sent off at the start of the second half though after picking up a second booking for catching debutant Fran Vélez with a flying elbow, and with twenty minutes to go Vélez got on the end of a Corona corner to head the equalizer. Two minutes later Suso put the visitors in front with a well struck free kick, and Espanyol ended the game with nine men when Javi López was sent off for bringing down Jonathan Zongo in injury time. The victory takes Francisco’s team to within two points of safety, and with one of the easier run-ins to the end of the season they may well be able to save themselves from a quick return to the second division. (27.04.14)

Real Madrid kept up the pressure on leaders Atlético with a 4-0 victory over Osasuna on Saturday evening. The match was preceded by the presentation of the Spanish cup which Madrid won midweek against Barcelona, and with one eye on next Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final in Munich, Ancelotti rested several of his key players. Ronaldo did start though, and he opened proceedings early on with a spectacular goal, picking up a long cross-field ball from Di María before firing an angled shot over Andrés from wide on the left. Only some great saves from the visiting keeper prevented Marcelo, Morata and Isco from adding to the lead later on in the first half, and Ramos and Ronaldo also went close. The visitors didn’t even get near to Diego López’s goal though until Armenteros fired a scissors kick wide at the start of the second half, but soon afterwards Ronaldo picked up a short pass from Isco before curling a long shot past andrés for his side’s second. A few minutes later Sergio Ramos started and ended the move leading to a third goal, winning the ball in defence and running on to head in Di María’s cross down past the keeper, and with seven minutes to go Carvajal completed the scoring with a looping header over Andrés from Isco’s centre. The win takes Madrid back up to second, within three points of Atlético pending their game on Sunday.

Madrid’s neighbours Rayo Vallecano are sure of another season in the top flight after they won 0-3 at Granada in the first match on Saturday, the defeat leaving the Andalusians back in the struggle to avoid relegation. Lucas Acaráz’s side had the better chances at first though, Piti and Fran Rico going close before the break, and Brahimi hitting the bar soon after the restart. A couple of minutes later however the ex Rennes midfielder got himself sent off for a second bookable offence, and soon afterwards Saúl put the visitors in front with a shot on the turn after a good team move which included 25 passes. If that was good though, just five minutes later they went one better, all ten outfield players involved in a 30 pass move which ended with Larrivey beating Karnezis for a second time. Larrivey and Falqué could have added to the lead after that, and with five minutes to go substitute Seba Fernández got on the end of Larrivey’s cross to head the third past the Greek international keeper.

Getafe move out of the bottom three pending Sunday’s games after beating Málaga 1-0, only their second victory in the league since the start of December. Colunga latched on to Ciprian’s return cross to open the scoring in the seventh minute, and Escudero fired a shot just over the top a few minutes later. Santa Cruz poked a shot against the upright though at the other end, and with ten minutes still to go to half time the locals were left with ten men when Ciprian picked up a second booking. At half time Schuster brought on Juanmi, who immediately headed a good chance just over the top, and Duda fired a wide free kick in to the side netting. But numbers were evened up when Angeleri also picked up a second yellow card, and after a concussed Julio César was replaced by Codina following a clash of heads with Santa Cruz, Caballero had to be on his toes to prevent Pedro León from increasing the score-line near the end.

The result meant that Betis started their game against Real Sociedad knowing that they have been mathematically relegated to the second division, and their fans showed their disappointment as they fell to a 0-1 defeat. The Andalusians hardly troubled Claudio Bravo throughout the ninety minutes, and the visitors came close to scoring before the break, Agirretxe turning a shot against the outside of the post and Carlos Vela shooting wide across goal. Just three minutes in to the second half though Juan Carlos gave away a penalty on Vela which the Mexican forward converted himself, and a few minutes later Griezmann almost made it two when his shot deflected off Perquis on to the upright. Adán did well soon afterwards to push a long shot from Iñigo Martínez over the top, and it was only in the dying minutes that Rubén Castro put Bravo to the test. Betis can already start planning for life in the second division, but Real confirmed their place in Europe for next season with the win, and they still have an outside chance of a return to the Champions League, Sevilla and neighbours Athletic permitting. (26.04.14)

Elche are still only four points above the bottom three pending the rest of the weekend games after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Levante on Friday evening. With difficult fixtures to come, Fran Escribá’s side really needed to take the three points against their regional rivals, and Rodrigues brought a good save out of Keylor Navas early on. Angel responded with a shot which Manu Herrera kept out, and both keepers were in action later on in the first half to prevent Damián Suárez and Diop from converting their respective free kicks. After the restart Rodrigues and Cisma both went close, and some twenty minutes in to the second half Boakye gave the locals the lead after picking up a pass from Rodrigues and firing in a shot on the turn which went in off Víctor Casadesús. However a few minutes later Angel made it all square against his old club, and although Rodrigues tried his luck a couple of times later on, Navas and his defence held fast for a point which virtually ensures them another season in the top flight. (25.04.14)