Victories for the big three on Sunday, leaders Real Madrid starting things off with a 0-3 win at neighbours Getafe in the mid-day kick-off which clinched them the honourary title of “winter champions” at the half-way stage of the season, still with a game in hand. Ancelotti’s side were hungry for the victory after being knocked out of the cup midweek by city rivals Atlético, and they totally dominated the first half, Codina having to keep out Benzema, Bale and Isco, and Kroos driving a long shot against the crossbar. After the restart Benzema and James came up against Codina again, but with just over an hour gone the local keeper was finally beaten, Ronaldo turning the ball into the net following a good run by Benzema down the by-line. Some four minutes later Bale got on the end of a long James cross to make it two, and a few minutes later Ronaldo headed the third from another James centre, his 28 th of the season in the league. Alvaro Vázquez did hit the post as the visitors took their feet off the gas near the end, but it was resounding defeat for Quique’s side, and they end the weekend just a point above the drop zone.
Barcelona stay a point behind Madrid, albeit having played a game more, after beating Deportivo 0-4 later in the evening. Messi helped himself to yet another hat-trick, the first coming in the tenth minute with a diving header from Rakitic’s cross just a minute after Fabricio had pushed a previous shot over the bar. With just over half an hour gone Iniesta, Neymar and Luis Suárez combined for Messi to lift a shot over the keeper, and Fabricio had to be at his best to keep out Luis Suárez before the break. Cuenca had fired a shot just over the top though before the break, and Claudio Bravo did well to save from Juan Domínguez soon after the interval. A few minutes later though Rakitic lobbed the ball across to Messi following a short corner for him to cut across and complete his hat-trick with an angled shot inside the far post, and Suárez could have added a fifth had Fabricio not kept him out later on.
Atlético Madrid are still three points behind Barça after they won 2-0 against bottom club Granada, who were under the management of caretaker coach Aguado after Joaquín Caparrós was fired earlier in the week. Having knocked Real Madrid out of the cup midweek, and with a quarter final tie coming up against Barcelona in a few days, the locals can be forgiven for not giving it their all, and the best chance in the first half hour was a header over the top by El-Arabi. Koke and Turan did have penalty appeals turned down however, and with ten minutes to go to the break it was third time lucky when Godín was pushed over by Sissoko in the area, Mandzukic stepping up to convert the resulting spot kick. After the interval though Atleti took control, Griezmann bringing a good save out of Oier, and Mandzukic, Koke and Mario Suárez all going close. The result was still in doubt though until Raúl García got between two defenders to bundle Turan’s cross into the net off his shoulder with a couple of minutes to go.
Sevilla are still in the running as well however, and they returned to fourth spot after a 2-0 victory over regional rivals Málaga. Bacca could have had two or three goals early on had Kameni not been at his best, and although Rosales and Duda fired shots wide later in the first half, the Colombian striker opened the scoring after collecting a cross from the right by Deulofeu. Bacca was in action again after the interval, the referee ruling out a strike for a non-existent offside, and midway through the second half he played the ball back into the path of Denis Suárez for the on-loan Barcelona midfielder to make it two. Kameni kept out Bacca again before he was finally rested with ten minutes to go, but Emery’s side had done enough to stay within two points of Atlético, their best performance in the history of the club at the mid-way stage of the competition.
Lower down the table, Elche moved out of the relegation spots to the detriment of Almería after beating fellow strugglers Levante 1-0. The turning point of the game came in the sixth minute, David Navarro getting himself sent off for punching Pelegrín in an off the ball incident. Diego Mariño saved Fayçal Fjar’s resulting free kick, but just five minutes later Jonathas got on the end of a long Aarón Ñíguez cross to head the opener past the keeper. Mariño kept out a Víctor Rodríguez header soon afterwards, and then saved a Fjar penalty after Vyntra was ruled to have fouled Jonathas later on the first half, and a few minutes after the interval he was called upon again to stop another header from Jonathas. The visitors had chances of their own however after the restart, Morales firing a shot just wide of the post, and Tyton saving a second penalty after Damián Suárez handled the ball in the area, but after a seventh game in a row without a win, they ended the weekend down in next to bottom spot. (18.01.15)
Valencia are up to third in the table pending Sunday’s games after 3-2 victory over Almería on Saturday evening. The Ches needed a good result to help them forget their midweek elimination from the cup, and with just over ten minutes gone Dani Parejo ran on to Barragán’s return pass to poke a shot past Julián. However two minutes later Hemed got on the end of a Wellington Silva cross to level the scores, and although Rodrigo restored the lead after Andres Gomes and Paco Alcácer combined to set him up a few minutes later, Hemed equalized again with a header from a Verza corner which took a deflection off Gomes to wrong-foot Diego Alves. Hemed came close to a hat-trick when he headed another corner against the crossbar before the break, and at half time Nuno turned to Negredo, who had started on the bench against his old side. Rodrigo rattled the crossbar again after the restart, but it was not until seven minutes from the end that Negredo headed the winner after Gayà crossed in from the left wing.
Villarreal meanwhile stay in sixth spot, still just three points behind the Ches, after a 2-0 win against Athletic Bilbao. The first chance fell to the visitors, Asenjo having to save from Aduríz following a corner, but Vietto got free twice after that, the first time coming up against Iraizoz, and the second being tackled by Laporte. Unai López headed just wide at the other end, but with half time looming Cheryshev pulled down a long ball from Víctor Ruíz and ran on round the keeper to score. After the interval the locals came close from a couple of corners, Uche ruled offside when he steered the first one into the net, and Mikel Rico turning the second one against his own crossbar. Youngster Iñaki Williams brought a good save out of Asenjo, but with seven minutes to go De Marcos blocked a Jaume Costa cross with his arm in the area, and Bruno drilled home the resulting penalty.
Espanyol ended the day in ninth spot after beating Celta 1-0 in the last minute of the final match of the evening, a result which takes them above their opponents in the table. The Galicians had only picked up two points in their last eight games, and had only scored once in that time, and they didn’t cause too many problems until the start of the second half, when Larrivey brought a couple of saves out of Casilla. Their hosts too hadn’t done much up to that point either though, the best a cross from Lucas Vázquez which Cabral just managed to clear, and a header over the top from Stuani, and with a quarter of an hour to go Sergio González brought on Caicedo, who had been the key man in their midweek cup victory over Valencia. That livened things up, the substitute setting up Sergio García for him to fire a shot against the post, then putting Sergio Alvarez to the test himself. And with the game coming to a close Sergio García’s header from a Lucas cross was blocked, and Caicedo was on hand to steer the rebound in to the net.
Rayo Vallecano are level on points with Espanyol though after they beat Real Sociedad 0-1 earlier in the evening. The Basque side had the better of the first half, Carlos Vela seeing a shot deflected wide by a defender, and Toño having to save a couple of times from Agirretxe. Zé Castro went close at the other end however, and Manucho misread a short pass which he should have turned into the net shortly before the break. Agirretxe turned a shot over the top after the restart, and Alex Moreno tested Rulli again, but with ten minutes to go Rayo were awarded a hotly contested corner, and Manucho got above his markers to head Trashorras’ kick into the far bottom corner of the net. It was another defeat for David Moyes’ side, and they ended the day just three points above the relegation spots, albeit that they stay ahead of eternal rivals Athletic on goal difference. (17.01.15)
Eibar ended the first half of the season in eighth spot, the highest position ever achieved by a team playing in the first division for the first time, after drawing 1-1 at Córdoba on Friday evening. They were up against it though from very early on, Fede Cartabia winning the ball off Dani García straight from the kick-off and setting up Andone Florin for the opener with only ten seconds on the clock. Cartabia tested Irureta again later in the first half, but otherwise there were few chances, and both sides were left a man short after the restart, Campabadal getting himself sent off for a second yellow card and Piovaccari following him down the tunnel after sliding into Florin just a minute or so later. The visitors had hardly troubled Juan Carlos in the local goal all night, but with just over an hour gone substitute Arruabarrena got on the end of a Saúl Berjón cross to head in the equalizer. Cartabia fired a shot over and Irureta had to save from Crespo after that, but in the end both coaches settled for a point which keeps them in or around mid-table. Not bad for either though, a year or so ago even the thought of these two teams meeting in the first division would have been a dream. (16.01.15)