First Division - Day 21

Real Madrid 4 - Málaga 3

Real Madrid: Casillas; Michel Salgado, Hierro, Karanka, Roberto Carlos; Iván Helguera, Makelele; Figo, Guti (Munitis 78'), McManaman; Raúl. 4-2-3-1.
Málaga: Contreras; Rojas, Larrainzar (Fernando Sanz 85'), Roteta, Valcarce; Rufete, Movilla, De los Santos, Zárate (Agostinho 65'); Darío Silva (Canabal 79'), Dely Valdés. 4-4-2.

Team changes: Madrid: No change / Málaga: Dely Valdés for Canabal.

1-0. 16. Guti. Picked up loose ball after corner and shot wide of keeper.
1-1. 25. Roteta. Headed back over Casillas after he punched out corner.
1-2. 30. Dely Valdés. Took pass from Darío Silva and dribbled round keeper.
2-2. 39. Raúl. Beat Contreras to head on cross from Figo.
3-2. 42. Raúl. Header into top corner of net after Figo cross from right.
3-3. 74. Darío Silva. Looped header over Casillas after Rufete centred from right.
4-3. 76. Hierro. Header which Contreras couldn't stop after Figo free kick.

Real Madrid maintained their seven point lead at the top of the table after a thrilling victory against a surprisingly good Málaga side. Fortunes swung from end to end, with Madrid taking an early lead through Guti, Málaga scoring twice to go ahead on the half hour mark, and the home side finally scraping home with a late goal by Hierro. The victory gives Madrid 31 points out of the last 33, a run which already has bookmakers making them odds on favourite to win the league title this year. With Morientes injured and Raúl passed fit before kick off, Del Bosque stuck to the line up from his last game, with Guti keeping his place in attack and McManaman staying on the left wing. Málaga's squad included ten ex Real Madrid players, and one of them, Canabal, made way for the now fit Dely Valdés in the starting line up.

Darío Silva caused some problems for Casillas in the early moments, but it was Madrid who took the lead on the quarter hour mark, Guti taking advantage of a ball which Larrainzar lost control of to find the top corner of the net. But Málaga were playing well and Roteta levelled the scores ten minutes later after Casillas pushed away a corner, the defender heading it back over the stranded keeper for his first goal for his club. Five minutes later the visitors were in front, Dely Valdés getting his fifth goal in the Santiago Bernabeu in his career, picking up an incisive pass from Darío Silva to speed round Casillas and stick the ball in the net. But this was a new Real Madrid, with Figo and Raúl as their figureheads, and the two stars combined twice in a three minute period to restore Madrid's lead before half time. Both goals were similar in execution, Figo losing his marker to centre from the right, with Raúl bravely going in to beat the lunging Contreras to the ball to head in the first, and then placing a second header into the top corner of the net from the middle of the penalty area. The second goal was Raúl's 114th in the league, making him the leading active scorer with one more than Osasuna's Ziganda. Incidentally the third highest is Madrid's Hierro, who got his 99th in this game.

Madrid could have extended their lead in the second half, with Contreras saving from Roberto Carlos and Makelele and Guti missing chances. But then Rufete made a charge down the right wing on a counter attack, and his long cross found the head of Darío Silva who looped a header over Casillas. Before the 2,000 or so Málaga fans had much time to celebrate though, Hierro had once again put the home side back in the lead, and although Contreras got a hand to his powerful header from Figo's free kick, referee Llonch Andreu ruled the ball had already crossed the line. Nobody realised that until the referee's report was issued the day after the match however, as Iván Helguera had followed up to slot the ball home and was awarded the goal by all of the local media.

Ex Real Madrid defender Fernando Sanz came on for the last few minutes to an ovation from both sets of fans, his first appearance this season after a long injury, and Darío Silva limped off with a leg injury, but also with a broken tooth after clashing with Fernando Hierro. The Uruguayan striker once again had showed both sides of his character, with some exciting football but also with some ugly incidents, including one with Guti who he later accused of being a cry-baby amongst other things. Figo picked up his tenth yellow card of the season near the end which means he misses Madrid's next match at Bilbao, but nobody worried too much as his team kept up their unbeaten run at the top. Málaga were unlucky to lose, but they stay in tenth position, still only four points off their objective of a place in UEFA next year.