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Match round-up - First Division, Day 30

Barcelona go in to the international break with a nine point lead over Atlético Madrid despite a 2-2 draw at fourth placed Villarreal on Sunday. The first chance of the match fell to the locals, a header from Trigueros rolling against the post, but Rakitic and Messi went close, and with twenty minutes gone Rakitic fired the opener past the returning Sergio Asenjo after Messi’s free kick came back to him. Referee Sánchez Martínez upset the local crowd though (and coach Marcelino, who was sent off!) when he waved away appeals for a hand ball by Piqué which would have meant a second booking, and with the first half coming to a close he awarded a hotly disputed penalty to the visitors after Neymar fell over Asenjo’s outstretched arm, the Brazilian forward lobbing in the resulting spot kick. After the interval though the locals came back to level it, Bakambu scoring the first after Bravo pushed out a shot from Denis Suárez, and substitute Mathieu deflecting the second into his own net after Soldado headed on a corner. Asenjo had to make a couple of important saves from Neymar and Rakitic later on to keep the scores level, but Villarreal held on to become the first team to take points off the Catalans since the beginning of January.

Real Madrid close to within a point of Atlético after they beat fifth placed Sevilla 4-0 in the last game of the evening. Zidane could count on his “BBC” forward line for the first time in several weeks, and with only six minutes gone Benzema got on the end of Bale’s cross to volley a shot past Sergio Rico. The visiting keeper had to be at his best to save from Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo soon afterwards, and Bale got the ball in the net only for referee Estrada Fernández to rule it out for a non-existent offside. The Andalusians have still not won away from home in the league this season, but they had a chance to go ahead when Varane gave away a penalty on Rami. However Keylor Navas saved Gameiro’s spot kick, and the hosts were given their own penalty after Modric fell under a challenge from Reyes a few minutes in to the second half. Ronaldo too failed to convert the kick however, the ball sailing over the bar, and soon afterwards Gameiro also had a strike ruled out for another incorrect offside decision. Eventually though the goals started to flow, Ronaldo sweeping in a cross from Danilo, Bale getting on the end of Benzema’s lob to make it three from close range just two minutes later, and Jesé wrapping things up near the end. Madrid are still ten points off leaders Barcelona, but they visit the Nou Camp in two weeks’ time, so who knows?

The fight for the remaining European spots would appear to be down to four sides, Celta drawing level with Sevilla and moving to within six points of Villarreal after a 0-2 win at Valencia. The Galicians were the better team for much of the match, Ryan having to save from Wass, and Guidetti hitting the post with a little help from Mustafi, the keeper scooping the ball off the line as it was going in. Paco Alcácer had a strike ruled out for offside, Santi Mina went close either side of half time, and Rodrigo came up against Sergio Alvarez twice after the break. Ryan had to push a shot from Jonny on to the post though, and with ten minutes to go Guidetti put the visitors in front after a deft flick from Orellana put him clear. Four minutes later Hugo Mallo cut in from the right to beat Ryan from a tight angle, and Orellana could have extended the lead if he had been able to find the target late on. The Ches have only won three games out fifteen since Gary Neville took charge, leaving the team just six points above the drop zone, and the angry fans chanted for the coach to leave after the final whistle.

Athletic Bilbao drop a point below Celta after they lost 2-1 at Espanyol in this Sunday’s mid-day game. The Basque side got off to a good start, De Marcos and Mikel Rico trying their luck before De Marcos set up Eraso to beat Pau López at the second attempt. Gerard Moreno thought he should have had a penalty though when tripped by Etxeita, and Diop brought a good save out of Iraizoz shortly before half time. Straight after the interval the locals bore down on the visitors’ goal, Iraizoz having to save from Marco Asensio and Hernán Pérez, and Moreno firing a shot over the bar. Soon afterwards Diop made it all square with a header from Abraham’s corner, and three minutes later Caicedo picked up Moreno’s cross to beat Iraizoz for a second time, giving the Catalans their fourth win in six games. (20.03.16)

A big surprise on Saturday afternoon, second placed Atlético Madrid losing 2-1 at Sporting Gijón. Simeone made several changes to his line-up following the grueling midweek Champions League game, but even so they went ahead with a well struck Griezmann free kick on the half hour mark. As they had done so many times this season, Atleti sat back to defend their lead, Gabi and Juanfran coming on to replace more attacking players. However with a quarter of an hour to go Sanabria hit the post following a short free kick, and just a minute or so later he levelled the scores from another free kick, his fierce shot taking a deflection off Kranevitter to put off Oblak. A few minutes later the visitors were left with ten men when Giménez hobbled off with an injury, and substitute Carlos Castro hit the bar before getting on the end of Jony’s pass to score a last minute winner. It was only the third time this season that Oblak had let in more than a goal in the league (the other two times were against Barcelona), and the result took the Asturians out of the bottom three for a couple of hours or so at least.

Sporting dropped back into the relegation spots though after Granada and Rayo Vallecano drew 2-2 later in the day, the result taking them both a point above Abelardo’s side. El-Arabi fired the locals into an early lead from an Isaac Cuenca cross, and the Moroccan striker headed a free kick against the post a few minutes later. However debutant keeper Jesús had to be at his best to tip a long shot from Piti over the bar, and with the first half coming to an end Pablo Hernández equalized with an angled shot after controlling a cross from Quini on his chest. Soon after the restart El-Arabi put the Andalusians back in front from the penalty spot after Juan Carlos brought down Isaac Success in the area, the keeper lucky to be let off with a yellow card. With twenty minutes to go though they were left with ten men when Success picked up a second yellow card, and with full time approaching Zé Castro levelled it once again following a long free kick which Manucho played back to him.

Las Palmas distanced themselves from the danger zone after a 0-1 victory at Real Sociedad, a third away win in a row for the Canary Islanders. Quique Setien’s side had a good chance to go ahead early on when Iñigo Martínez gave away a penalty on Aythami, but Rulli guessed correctly and saved Jonathan Viera’s spot kick. With six minutes to go to the break though the keeper could only push out a shot from El Zhar, and the referee awarded the visitors an indirect free kick in the area for a dangerously high kick by Iñigo on Tana, Viera touching the ball on for Willian José to blast it into the net. Real’s only serious reply was a shot by Oyarzabal which Javi Varas pushed round the post, and Tani and Dani Castellano could have added to the lead later on. The Basque side have only picked up two points from their last five matches, and they were booed off the pitch by their fans after the final whistle.

All of that left Levante further adrift at the bottom of the table after they were beaten 2-1 by Deportivo. The Galicians had gone thirteen games without a win, but with half time approaching Luis Alberto picked up a centre from Lucas Pérez and dummied past two defenders before firing a shot past Diego Mariño. Just five minutes after the interval though Rossi equalized after Verza put him through, leaving his marker for dead before beating Lux. Mariño had to be at his best to push a shot from Fajr round the post later in the second half, but with five minutes to go he could only parry a shot from Luis Alberto, and the rebound fell to Pérez whose volley came back off the post and rebounded into the net off the back of the keeper.

Málaga are just about safe after they won 0-1 at neighbours Betis in the last match of the evening, although their hosts are now five points behind them and still have some work to do. Local keeper Adán made two top class saves to prevent Albentosa and Duje Cop from scoring early on, and the visitors continued to press throughout the first half. Soon after the restart though Ochoa kept out a couple of efforts from Rubén Castro, Damiao somehow heading the rebound from the first wide of the mark, and then watching as the second looped back past him. Charles fired a shot over the top and Molina tested Ochoa again, but with eight minutes to go Adán blotted his copybook coming out for a long Recio free kick, and Camacho got in front of the keeper to head the ball past him and in to the net. (19.03.16)

Getafe and Eibar drew 1-1 in this week’s Friday night match, a result which takes Fran Escribá’s team out of the bottom three pending the rest of the weekend games. Velázquez headed the locals into the lead from Sarabia’s free kick early on, but Borja Bastón and Keko went close later in the first half, and Guaita had to save from Adrián González and Keko either side of half time. After the restart Alvaro Vázquez headed against the upright and then brought a good save out of Riesgo, but Inui also fired a shot against the post, and with three minutes to go the Japanese midfielder crossed in for Borja to equalize with a clever back-heel, depriving the hosts of a first win in ten games. (18.03.16)