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First Division - Day Thirty Six

Deportivo de La Coruña 2 - Zaragoza 2

Deportivo: Kouba; Manuel Pablo, Naybet, Donato, Romero; Mauro Silva, Flavio Conceiçao; Víctor (Turu Flores 55'), Djalminha, Fran (Pauleta 85'); Makaay (Scaloni 80'). 4-2-3-1.
Zaragoza: Juanmi; Cuartero, Paco, Aguado, Lanna; Aragón(Yordi 75'), Acuña, Marcos Vales, Garitano; Juanele (Vellisca 72'), Milosevic. 4-4-2.

Team changes: Deportivo: Kouba, Romero for Song'o, Schurrer / Zaragoza: Cuartero, Acuña, Marcos Vales for Sundgren, Vellisca, Yordi.

0-1. 53. Juanele. Following up after Garitano's long shot was blocked by Kouba.
1-1. 59. Makaay. Strong header on far post after cross by Fran on left.
2-1. 79. Djalminha. Ran through and shot low past Juanmi.
2-2. 83. Aguado. Header over keeper after cross from right by Cuartero.

It is being described as the league that nobody wants to win this year. With Barcelona and Real Madrid both losing at home the day before, Deportivo had yet another golden opportunity to wrap up their first ever league title. Eight home wins in a row were credentials enough, but they were up against a Zaragoza side who were still in with a chance of the title having themselves gone five away matches without defeat. Deportivo were missing Songo'o in goal after his sending off for handling outside of the area last week, and a not fully fit Kouba was quickly drafted in with his bum heavily strapped (don't ask me why, I'm not a doctor). Romero was also sent off last week, but the appeals committee accepted that referee Llonch Andreu had got the wrong man (it was Mauro Silva, honest guv'), and the second yellow card was struck from the record. That meant that the Spanish international left back returned to the side in place of Schurrer. Sundgren was the only man sitting it out on the Zaragoza squad, with Cuartero coming in at right back for him. Txetxu Rojo also decided to make two unforced changes, Yordi and Vellisca returning to the sub's bench, with Acuña (who passed a late fitness test) and Marcos Vales returning to the starting line up. Rojo warned his side that Deportivo would come at them from the start and they did just that, with Flavio already trying his luck with a free kick in the first minute, and then shots by Víctor, Makaay and Djalminha. However they came up against Juanmi, still a candidate for the Zamora goalkeeping prize this year and looking for a place in Spain's Euro 2000 squad, and he kept them at bay time and time again. Víctor missed a sitter in front of goal in the 12th minute, possibly unsighted by a defender as Makaay's cross came over from the right. Once the initial rush was over Zaragoza started to get back in the game, with Milosevic beginning to create problems for the Depor defence. The Yugoslavian striker has only scored once in the last seventeen games however, and the striker was once again unable to get a shot on target. Kouba's sore bum was starting to get better, and he was called upon to make a couple of saves, from a Marcos Vales header and a Milosevic shot. Zaragoza were on a roll, and it was no surprise when they took the lead a couple of minutes later, Garitano unleashing a thunderbolt from outside of the area which Kouba could only block, and Juanele reacted quickly to reach the ball and score. The crowd were silenced for a moment, but with Fran on inspirational form Deportivo set to work. Six minutes later his cross from the left set up Makaay for his 21st league goal of the season, and eleven minutes from time a touch of genius from Djalminha gave the home side the lead. Like all geniuses however, the Brazilian has his flaws, and probably having seen the video of Ryan Giggs from last season, he took off his shirt and whirled it round his head. Not normally a sending off offence, but under the strict rules it merits a booking, and the player having already received a first yellow card earlier in the match after a clash with Garitano, referee Iturralde obeyed the letter of the law and produced a second yellow followed by a red. An over-the-top decision for most commentators, but Djalminha should have known better, and he was heavily criticised after the match for not thinking. Irureta put on another defender Scaloni for Makaay in an attempt to safeguard the result, but Aguado rose above the defence a few minutes later to meet Cuartero's cross and break the home supporters' hearts. Deportivo are still three points ahead of Barcelona and five above Zaragoza, Alavés and Valencia with two games to go, and are still favourites to win the title. However they should have been a little bit closer by now. For the record, their particular goal average is unfavourable against Zaragoza, neutral against Barcelona and Valencia, and favourable against Alavés and Real Madrid. That means that mathematically Madrid can't take the title, but any of the other four could if Deportivo falter. They need to be strong, and they will miss Djalminha for their next match at Racing. Zaragoza would be happy just to get a Champions League spot at the moment, and if it was one of the top two (giving direct access to the league stage), even better. Their goal average is better against Real Madrid and Alavés and worse against Barcelona, and their final match at Valencia could be a decider. Don't switch off your sets.

Remaining matches:
Deportivo: Racing (A), Espanyol (H)
Zaragoza: Málaga (H), Valencia (A)

Barcelona 0 - Rayo Vallecano 2

Barcelona: Hesp; Frank De Boer (Sergi 70'), Abelardo; Puyol, Guardiola, Zenden (Dani 60'); Cocu, Litmanen (Gabri 65'); Simao, Kluivert, Rivaldo. 2-3-2-3.
Rayo: Lopetegui; Cota, Amaya, Hernández, Alcázar; Helder, Poschner, Pablo Sanz (Ferrón 89'), Llorens (Michel I 87'); Canabal (Luis Cembranos 63'), Bolo. 4-4-2.

Team changes: Barcelona: Abelardo, Cocu, Kluivert, Rivaldo for Reiziger, Gabri, Figo, Dani / Rayo: Hernández, Helder, Canabal for Clotet, Estibariz, Michel I.

0-1. 08. Bolo. Unmarked in the penalty after cross from left by Llorens.
0-2. 85. Bolo. From close range after Llorens had passed on to Cembranos.

Barcelona lost ground to Deportivo with a disastrous defeat at the hands of Rayo Vallecano, who had never won before in the Camp Nou stadium. Following on from their 4-1 loss in the Champions League midweek, they have now entered into another mini-crisis, and they could end up without winning any trophy this season. Van Gaal decided to risk most of his best players, bringing back Cocu, Rivaldo and Kluivert from the team who played in the league last week, and reverting back to his old 2-3-2-3 formation, with Zenden dropping back to left back and Rivaldo out on the left wing. With Figo still injured and Ronald De Boer not quite fit, Litmanen and Simao were both given a chance to prove themselves in the starting line up. Hernández returned to the heart of the Rayo side after a one match suspension, and Canabal returned to partner Bolo up front after missing a couple of games through injury. Lopetegui returned to the ground where his career fell apart a few years ago, the ex Spanish international losing his place in the national squad after picking up a string of injuries and failing to hold down a first team place at Barcelona. Now he was back with something to prove, and he was to be the man of the match, with a string of saves as the home team forwards tried to get back in the game. It looked right from the start as if Barcelona's hearts were not in this match, and Bolo sent out an early warning with two attempts at goal early on. Still nobody picked him up, and in the eighth minute he had an easy job of scoring with his markers Abelardo and Frank De Boer nowhere to be seen. De Boer was having one of his worse matches, and Van Gaal asked Déhu to warm up on the touchline, although in the end he didn't come on. Barcelona's chances were few and far between, as the midfield failed to connect with their forwards, with Litmanen and Simao seemingly on another planet. In the whole of the second half they didn't manage one decent shot at goal, and the crowd started to whistle the players as the game went on. Dani, Gabri and Sergi came on in quick succession, but nothing changed. Five minutes from time substitute Luis Cembranos (another ex Barcelona player) laid the ball on for Bolo to score his second of the night. The supporters who were still there got out their off-white hankies and waved them around in protest, and after the match a group of fans gathered around the ground shouting for the heads of Van Gaal and club president Josep Luis Nuñez. Barcelona need some immediate good results if Van Gaal is to keep his job, but at the end of the day Real Madrid lost and they are still in second place. A lot will depend on whether they produce a reasonable performance against Valencia midweek, but if they don't win a trophy this year there could be changes. The supporters will accept a group of mercenaries representing their team if they win. However a lot of old gripes will surface if they don't. Rayo meanwhile are completing their best ever season, and rise to seventh place. They won't be in Europe next year unless they change their minds and enter the Inter-toto, but they will be looking to hold on to their core of players (their manager will probably leave however) and consolidate their position. If Atlético go down Rayo will also be the second Madrid team next season, which should mean more income and more prestige. Things are looking up.

Remaining matches:
Barcelona: Real Sociedad (A), Celta (H)
Rayo: Oviedo (H), Sevilla (A)

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