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Match round-up - First Division, Day 37

The league championship race will be going down to the last day this season after Atlético Madrid and Barcelona both drew their respective games on Sunday. Atlético knew that if they could better Barça’s result they would take the league title this weekend, but they were up against a Málaga team who came to defend, still needing a point or so to be sure of staying up. With Diego Costa out injured, David Villa led the attack, and he fired in an early shot which brushed the crossbar. Eliseu was lucky to be let off a penalty appeal for hand ball, and Koke and Raúl García both failed to convert good crosses from Juanfran shortly before the break. After the restart Willy Caballero kept out Villa, bu Courtois had to come out rapidly to save from Santa Cruz, and a few minutes later Alderweireld failed to cut out a long clearance from the visiting keeper, and Samuel got ahead of Courtois to lift the ball over him and run round to head in the opener. Caballero was in action again, making top class saves from Diego Ribas and Villa, but with a quarter of an hour to go Alderweireld got between his markers to head Sosa’s corner in to the far corner of the net to make it 1-1. With three minutes left on the clock Angeleri got himself sent off for the second time in three weeks after picking up a second booking, but Sosa fired the resulting free kick just wide, and with the game in injury time Caballero made the save of the evening from Adrián. A golden opportunity missed, and now Simeone’s side need a draw in the Nou Camp next Saturday if they are to tie up their tenth league title.

Barcelona meanwhile drew 0-0 at Elche, and a victory against Atlético next weekend will make them the champions, something that seemed impossible only eight days ago. Like Málaga, the locals still needed a point to be safe, and a packed crowd saw Pelegrín bring an early save out of Pinto. Iniestra drove a volley against the crossbar though, and after that it was just about one way traffic, Alexis, Messi and Pedro all failing to find the target, and Manu Herrera saving from Messi and Alexis. Messi tested Herrera again a couple of times either side of half time, but the home side created a couple of chances themselves after the interval, Carles Gil and Rodrigues firing shots over the top. News came in though that Atlético were only drawing, and knowing that a defeat would hand their rivals the title, but that a draw or a win made no difference, Tata Martino decided to go for caution. That suited Fran Escribá as well, and although Herrera did have to make late saves from Adriano and Messi, both teams were happy with the result.

The slip-ups by their rivals meant that Real Madrid could have re-entered the title race if they had won at Celta, but Ancelotti reserved his best players for the Champions League final, and they were beaten 2-0 by Luis Enrique’s side. Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo were all missing from the line-up, and although replacements Morata and Isco did test Sergio Alvarez a couple of times in the first half, Charles took advantage of a slip by Sergio Ramos to run on past Diego López and open the scoring shortly before the break. After the restart Modric turned a shot over the bar, the referee waving away his appeal that he was fouled in the area by Aurtenetxe, and Morata and Isco brought further saves out of Sergio. Ancelotti rested Arbeloa and Khedira, both making their first appearances after injury lay-offs, switching Xabi Alonso to the centre of defence and Marcelo to the wing, but the move didn’t pay off when Charles picked up a sloppy back-pass by Alonso to score his second of the evening. Even the news that Atlético and Barça were only drawing didn’t inspire the visitors, Sergio saving comfortably again from substitutes Coentrao and Illarramendi, and the Galicians could have won by a bigger margin in the end had Diego not kept out Alex López, Orellana and Bermejo late on.

Earlier in the evening Real Sociedad picked up a point in a 1-1 draw at fourth placed Athletic Bilbao, and although their place in the Europa League is assured, they will have to wait for the last day to see whether they finish fifth, sixth or seventh. The visitors had the better start, Vela turning a shot wide and Iraizoz having to save from Xabi Prieto and Bergara. Toquero missed a sitter at the other end though close to half time, and although Chory Castro went close soon after the break, Muniain put the locals ahead after winning the ball in midfield and battling through to curl a long shot past Bravo. The visiting keeper had to be on his toes to save from Mikel Rico a few minutes later, but with a quarter of an hour to go substitute Agirretxe picked up a through ball from Vela and rounded Iraizoz to make it all square. Both teams had chances after that, Bravo tipping a long effort by Iturraspe over the top and Laporte having a headed goal ruled out for a previous foul, and the visitors responding with a Griezmann header which Iraizoz kept out, but in the end a draw was a fair result.

The fight to avoid the last two relegation spots will also be decided on the last weekend, and although Málaga, Elche and Espanyol are now safe, any of five teams could still go down. Espanyol got the point they needed in a 1-1 draw against Osasuna, who ended the day in next to bottom spot despite the result. Having only picked up one point from their last six games, the Catalans found themselves unexpectedly in the battle to avoid the drop, and they were up against a desperate opponent who started the game knowing that adverse results could already send them to the second division this weekend. With twenty minutes gone though, Andrés could only push out a Javi López cross as far as Sergio García, whose header was cleared off the line by Miguel Flaño. And from the resulting Simao corner, Colotto turned a shot in to the net after Riera could only head the ball back in to his path. The visitors came out looking for the equalizer after that though, Acuña, Torres and Puñal all going close before Acuña got on the end of a long Puñal free kick to level the scores on the stroke of half time. But Aguirre’s men fell back to defend the point after the interval, and Javier Gracia’s side now have to beat Betis in their last game and hope other results go in their favour if they are to stay in the top flight.

Osasuna are level on 36 points with Valladolid, who took the lead three times at already relegated Betis, but ended up losing 4-3. Javi Guerra headed the visitors in to the lead from Rukavina’s cross in the first minute, but Braian Rodríguez and Peña bundled the ball in to the net from a Salva Sevilla corner just five minutes later to make it all square. Jaime tipped long shot by Matilla over the bar and Rodríguez had a strike ruled out for offside, but Jeffren had an effort cleared off the line in between, and seven minutes in to the second half Peña restored the lead for his side with a header from close to goal after Marc Valiente headed across a Jeffren corner. Once again though Betis equalized almost immediately, Jorge Molina heading Rubén Castro’s lofted pass past Jaime, and only a quick hand from the keeper was able to push a shot from Castro on to the bar minutes later. With an hour gone Guerra put the away side in front for a third time, converting a penalty after Adán brought down Larsson, but the locals levelled it for a third time when Castro volleyed Juanfran’s cross in to the net. After that Osorio shot straight at the keeper when free on goal twice in as many minutes, and Guerra lobbed another shot just wide of the post, but with the game in injury time Juanfran finally put an end to a run of six defeats in a row with a long free kick which sailed over Jaime’s head in to the far top corner of the net.

Valladolid will be at home next Sunday to fellow strugglers Granada, and at least one of the two will be destined to go down. The Andalusians were beaten 0-2 this weekend by regional rivals Almería, who themselves started the game two points behind their hosts in the table. Verza gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot however after Fran Rico caught him with a high kick on the edge of the area, and only a couple of long range efforts from Rico caused any problems for Esteban before the break. After the restart Brahimi fired a long shot just over the crossbar, and Ilori headed a Rico free kick wide of the mark in front of goal. But Azeez went close at the other end and Karnezis had to save a fierce drive from Oscar Díaz, and with seven minutes to go Aleix Vidal wrapped things up with a second penalty after Murillo was sent off for bringing Azeez down from behind as he advanced in to the area. It was a third win in a row for Francisco’s side, and they only need a point now from their last game at home to Athletic Bilbao to be totally sure of staying up.

Getafe are level with Almeria on 39 points after they won 1-0 against a Sevilla side who could be forgiven for having next Wednesday’s Europa League final on their minds rather than today’s match. For once there was a packed crowd in the Alfonso Pérez stadium, last week’s draw in the Nou Camp having given the team and their fans renewed hope of survival, and they piled on the pressure during the first half, Sarabia and Lafita bring good saves out of Javi Varas and Varela heading a free kick just wide. Julio César was only troubled by a shot from Marin close to half time, and after the interval Varas was in action again to keep out Lafita, Escudero and Juan Rodríguez, and Lafita steered a header on to the crossbar from a wide free kick. It was not until twenty minutes from the end however that Cosmin Contra’s side finally made the breakthrough, Escudero beating Varas with a shot from outside of the area, but that was enough to take a vital three points prior to a tricky last visit to neighbours Rayo Vallecano. If they lose that they could still go down, and they do have negative head-to-head records against all their rivals except Granada, but chances are that they won’t be needing the calculators in the end. (11.05.14)

Seven matches kick off at seven o’clock on Sunday evening in this penultimate weekend of the season, with the league title and the two remaining relegation spots at stake. Atlético Madrid could already be proclaimed league champions if they win against Málaga and Barcelona don’t at Elche, but otherwise it will all go down to next weekend’s final game in the Nou Camp between the top two. Real Madrid are waiting in the wings though in case they both slip up, although they will have to win at Celta to stay in contention. Elsewhere eight teams are fighting to avoid the drop, with four of those scheduled to meet on Sunday, Granada versus Almería, and Espanyol versus Osasuna. Málaga and Elche are also in the mix, as are Getafe, who host Sevilla, and Valladolid, who visit the already relegated Betis. Osasuna currently occupy next to bottom spot though on 35 points, with Valladolid, Almería and Getafe just a point above them in the table.

Two matches with little or nothing at stake were brought forward to Saturday, Villarreal beating Rayo Vallecano 4-0 to strengthen their seventh place in the table. Rubén had to save from Giovani and Gabriel early on, and Giovani had a lob cleared off the line by a defender before Uche latched on to Musacchio’s square pass to open the scoring midway through the first half. Bruno made it two shortly before the break after Aquino crossed in from the right, and Pereira got a third after Gálvez failed to cut out Musacchio’s long pass some ten minutes in to the second half. Larrivey did test Juan Carlos for the first time soon afterwards, but Musacchio missed a sitter at the other end, and the visitors were left with ten men when Arbilla was sent off for bringing down Moi Gómez just outside of the area. Rubén failed to hold on to the resulting free kick from Manu Trigueros, allowing Jaume Costa to score an easy fourth, and Trigueros himself came close to a fifth when he rattled the crossbar from another free kick later on.

A good result for Marcelino’s side, although they will want to improve on seventh position, which means they must play the early rounds of the Europa League competition. Their only hope is to get ahead of Real Sociedad, who they meet next Sunday. Real though visit Athletic Bilbao tomorrow afternoon, and their objective is to get past Sevilla for that fifth spot, which gives them safe passage through to the league stage of the competition. Athletic of course have already tied up the last Champions League place, but they will fight tooth and nail to prevent their Basque rivals from coming away from the new San Mamés stadium with the spoils.

Levante meanwhile won 2-0 against Valencia, a result which takes them above their city rivals in the table. The game got off to a lively start, Víctor Casadesús firing a shot across goal and Fede driving in a volley which Vyntra cleared off the line. Sissoko steered a header down and over the bar following a corner, and soon after the restart Ricardo Costa looped a header on to the crossbar from a free kick. With twenty minutes to go though substitute Angel put the locals in front just a minute or so after coming on, running on to beat Diego Alves after Ricardo Costa tried to head Vyntra’s long punt back to the keeper (referee Velasco Carballo at first ruled out the strike for offside, only to change his mind after consulting a linesman, sparking off a heated exchange between players and coaches). Jonas came close to equalizing a few minutes later, but soon afterwards Ivanschitz picked up a pass from Casadesús and poked a shot past Alves for the second. Pedro López got himself sent off near the end for a hard tackle on Bernat, and Keylor Navas had to make last minute saves from Joao Pereira and Vargas to ensure another clean sheet, but this time bragging rights were for the home side. (10.05.14)