First Division - Day Eighteen

Barcelona 3 - Real Sociedad 1

Barcelona: Arnau; Abelardo, Reiziger; Puyol, Xavi, Zenden; Litmanen, Cocu; Simao, Kluivert, Figo. 2-3-2-3.
Real Sociedad: Alberto; López Rekarte, Guerrero, Loren, Pikabea, Aranzábal; Gómez, De Pedro, Khokhlov, Sa Pinto; De Paula. 5-4-1.

Barcelona took advantage of slip ups by the three clubs above them to lay down the gauntlet for the second half of the season. Their victory against a poor Real Sociedad side moves them to within six points of the top, and Deportivo are already starting to feel their hot breath on the back of their necks. Javier Clemente's Real Sociedad meanwhile feel the cold wind of the second division blowing up their trouser legs as they drop to next to bottom, with the spectre of relegation starting to be on the lips of some of their more pessimistic fans. The soap opera of the week was the Rivaldo affair, with the European player of the year making a public apology to Louis Van Gaal and agreeing to play wherever his manager wants, even on the left wing. His reconciliation came too late for him to be included in this game however, with Simao keeping his place in a team with only one change, fully fit Jari Litmanen making his first home start in place of the injured Luis Enrique. The Barcelona substitute's bench was the envy of most first division managers, with Hesp, both De Boers, Sergi, Guardiola, Dani and youngster Gabri giving the Barcelona fans nickname 'culés' (literally bottoms) a new expensive meaning. Barcelona's ex 'dream team' captain, José Mari Bakero was alongside them, having replaced Ronald Koeman as assistant to Van Gaal. Real's new signing Khokhlov came straight into the side for Aranburu in midfield, with De Paula and López Rekarte coming in for Idiakez and the injured Corino. Rivaldo's absence was not missed however, with Figo switching to his left wing spot and scoring two excellent goals in the 26th and 62nd minutes. Both goals were similar, the Portuguese beating defenders and curling shots past Alberto from the edge of the penalty area. Litmanen proved his timely return to fitness after a long injury, scoring Barcelona's second ten minutes before half time after Kluivert skilfully laid the ball on from Zenden's pass. In the last minute Real got a consolation goal, but even then it was a Barcelona player who scored it, substitute Guardiola turning a cross from the right past his own keeper when under pressure from Idiakez and Bonilla, who had replaced Guerrero and De Paula at half time.

Valencia 1 - Celta 1

Valencia: Palop; Angloma, Djukic, Pellegrino, Björklund; Milla, Gerard, Mendieta, Kily González; Claudio López, Juan Sánchez. 4-4-2.
Celta: Pinto; Velasco, Cáceres, Sergio, Juanfran; Makelele, Giovanella; Karpin, Celades, Revivo, McCarthy. 4-2-3-1.

In the televised Saturday match, a Celta side decimated by flu hung on to win a valiant point against on form Valencia. With Djorovic and Mostovoi also suspended, Celta manager Víctor Fernández, who himself was feeling under the weather, was forced to make five changes to the side. Dutruel and Gustavo López stayed in bed, with Giovanella and Juanfran playing although not yet fully recovered. The striker position went to McCarthy this time, although Celta are scouring the market for someone with more experience as neither he nor Turdó are fulfilling expectations, and Kaviedes, currently on international duty with Ecuador at the pre-olympic tournament, will probably go on loan to another club for the rest of the season. Angloma and Gerard returned to the side in place of Gerardo and Farinós, and it was the young Catalan midfielder Gerard who scored the first goal of the new millennium in the sixth minute of the match, his header from Mendieta's corner giving replacement keeper Pinto no chance. Celta came back with Karpin hitting the post and Cáceres missing an easy chance from close up. Four minutes into the second half they got their reward, Right back Velasco getting his first goal for his new club, dribbling through the Valencia defence before shooting past Palop (who is keeping Spanish international Cañizares on the bench). Both teams made changes late in the half, with youngsters Angulo and Farinós coming on for Valencia and Turdó (for McCarthy again), Mazinho and Tomás coming on for the visitors. Worthy of note is the performance of referee Brito Arceo, who went the whole match without showing a red or yellow card, something of a record for a Spanish official and certainly for the infamous Canary Islander. The draw maintains respective runs for both teams: Valencia have now gone seven games without defeat, and Celta have not won in the last five. Valencia move to fifth, one place and three points behind their rivals.

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