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Match round-up - First Division, Day 26

Barcelona maintain their eight point lead over Atlético Madrid after a 2-1 victory against Sevilla in the last match on Sunday. Sergio Rico had to save from Luis Suárez early on, and Messi rattled the crossbar after a corner came out to him, but with twenty minutes on the clock Vitolo got on the end of a Trémoulinas cross to put the Andalusians ahead. Ten minutes later however Messi levelled the scores with a well struck free kick, and Rico had to keep out Messi and Neymar before Piqué latched on to a Suárez pass at the start of the second half to turn the scoreline around. Both keepers were in action after that, Bravo saving from Gameiro and Rico stopping Neymar and Busquets, and Neymar, Vitolo and Piqué all had late penalty appeals turned down. The result equals the best ever run by a Liga team of 34 matches without defeat, the last time that Barcelona lost being precisely at Sevilla half a season ago. Emery’s side stay in fifth spot, even though they have yet to win away from home in the league during the current campaign.

Earlier in the day fourth placed Villarreal beat Levante 3-0 to close the gap on Real Madrid to two points. Leo Baptistao opened the scoring early on after picking up a pass from Bruno, his angled shot squeezing under the legs of Diego Mariño and in to the net. Samu Castillejo and Baptistao went close after that, and with half an hour gone Castillejo made it two after latching on to an Adrián López pass to fire a low shot past the keeper. Soon afterwards Baptistao missed an easy header, and although Areola had to keep out Morales at the other end, Adrián ran on to a Nahuel through ball to score his side’s third just three minutes after the restart. Any chance Levante had of a comeback ended when David Navarro was sent off for a second bookable offence, and they ended the day back at the foot of the table, now four points away from safety.

Granada move three points above Levante after a 0-1 win at Deportivo, a best possible start for new coach José González, who took over from Sandoval this week. The locals had not won a single game since the start of the new year, and although Borges and Lucas Pérez fired shots wide early on, they went behind when El-Arabi converted a penalty after Juanfran brought down Peñaranda in the area midway through the first half. Pérez and Luis Alberto in particular tried their luck after that, but there was no way past a defence well marshalled by Andrés and Ricardo Costa, and Rochina could have added to the lead had Rochina’s shot not hit Arribas in the face with Lux beaten. To make matters worse, the local keeper got himself sent off in injury time for kicking out at Edgar as the forward tried to go round him outside of the area. Depor still stay tenth, but they really need that win to avoid problems later in the season. .

Meanwhile Athletic Bilbao are back up to seventh after a 0-3 victory at Valencia, a set-back for Gary Neville’s side after their recent good form. Negredo in particular missed a couple of good chances for the Ches in the first half, and Iraizoz made important saves from Negredo and Alcácer after the interval. However with just under twenty minutes to go Parejo gave the ball away in midfield, and San José crossed in for Sabin to head the opener past Diego Alves. That sparked off a frenetic six minutes in which the Basque side scored two more, Muniain picking up a pass from Mikel Rico to fire a low shot under the keeper, and Aduríz heading the third from a Beñat corner. Valencia end the weekend in twelfth spot, some seven points below their opponents, who they meet again in the Europa League in ten days’ time. (28.02.16)

Real Madrid’s title challenge is virtually over after they lost 0-1 to Atlético Madrid in the first match on Saturday! Well in the past now is the run of fourteen years in which Atleti were unable to register a single win against their city rivals, and Simeone’s side set a new record in being the first team to clock up three victories in a row in the Bernabeu stadium. It was a typical derby though, with chances at both ends early on. Ronaldo in particular fired a couple of shots wide, and then saw a free kick punched clear by Oblak, and Fernando Torres had two shots blocked before Griezmann and Koke tested Keylor Navas in the run up to half time. After the interval Ronaldo fired a shot just past the upright, but soon afterwards Griezmann connected with a return pass from Filipe Luis to beat the local keeper with a low shot inside the near post. Ronaldo and young substitute Borja Mayoral came up against Oblak a couple of times after that, Navas had to save from Saúl, and Danilo thought he should have had a penalty when bundled over by Gabi. However Atelti came away once again with a victory which opens up a four point gap over their neighbours, and if Barcelona win against Sevilla on Sunday, Zidane’s team will be a massive twelve points behind the Catalans. It was too much for some fans, who chanted for president Florentino Pérez to resign after the final whistle.

The derby game outshadowed the rest this weekend, but elsewhere Celta moved level with Sevilla in fifth place after a 0-1 victory at Getafe. The locals had lost their last five games, but visiting keeper Sergio Alvarez had to be at his best to save from Yoda and Sarabia in the opening minutes. Aspas and Bongonda failed to find the target before the break though, and after the interval Guaita had to keep out Orellana a couple of times. Either side of half time Sergi Gómez and Víctor Rodríguez were lucky to survive penalty appeals for hand ball, and with twenty minutes to go Nolito headed what was to prove the winner for the Galicians after Pablo Hernández headed on an Orellana corner.

Curiously no home side has been able to win so far this weekend, Sporting Gijón dropping back below Las Palmas into the relegation spots after a 2-4 defeat against Espanyol. Carlos Castro did put the Asturians in front in the twentieth minute after Pau López could only palm away a cross from Isma López, but the visitors wasted a couple of chances before Burgui cut across the area to level the scores on the stroke of half time. After the restart Gerard Moreno added two more in the opening twelve minutes the first from a Javi López cross, and the second with an individualist run before curling a shot wide of Cuéllar. Castro pulled another one back for the locals though with a header from Jony’s centre, and for a few minutes there was hope of an epic comeback, Sanabria and Rachid hitting the bar, and Pau López having to save from Sanabria and others. However with ten minutes to go a long run by Marco Asensio ended with Luis Hernández putting through his own net, and a couple of minutes later it as all over when substitute Nacho Cases was sent off for a late tackle on Asensio.

Real Sociedad and Málaga remain safely in mid-table after they drew 1-1 in the last match of the evening. Both teams had been improving in the last few weeks, and honours were shared in the first half, the best chances a header by Diego Reyes against the bar, and another header wide of the mark from Charles. Some ten minutes in to the second half Duje Cop gave the visitors the lead after Rosales turned a Recio pass across the face of the goal ,but Ricca was lucky to get off a penalty claim for hand ball, and with ten minutes left to go substitute Agirretxe volleyed home the equalizer, the referee waving away appeals for offside.

For the second week in a row Rayo Vallecano came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 against a team from Sevilla, this time hosts Betis going two up before the visitors pegged them back. Rubén Castro scored twice in the first half hour, the opener with a header past Juan Carlos from Molinero’s cross, and the second from close up after Jorge Molina headed on a corner. However Paco Jémez made two attacking changes at the break, and substitute Manucho scored twice in the next six minutes, the first from a Trashorras centre, and the second an acrobatic shot after a corner was headed on. The Andalusians should have won it after that though, Juan Carlos almost letting an Iturra back pass into his own net, Damiao missing a sitter from a yard out, and Dani Ceballos firing a shot against the woodwork, but in the end they had to settle for a point which keeps them two points above their opponents in the table. (27.02.16)

Las Palmas finally clocked up their first away win of the season in the league after they beat seventh placed Eibar 0-1 in this week’s Friday night game. Heavy rain made playing conditions difficult, but the Canary Islanders adapted the better of the two sides, Willian José firing an early shot over the top, and Riesgo having to save from Wakaso and Aythami. Dani García replied for the locals with a long shot which Javi Varas held on to, but Jonathan Viera and Willian José went close again, and with the first half already in time added on Bigas got on the end of a corner to head the ball off a defender and in to the net. After the restart Borja Bastón and Sergi Enrich both had penalty appeals turned down, Saúl Berjón tested Varas again with a low free kick, and Adrían González fired a shot over the top, but the visitors held on for the three points which take them to the brink of escaping the drop zone. (26.02.16)