It really is a crazy time in La Liga. At the end of January Real Madrid had a nine point advantage over rivals Barcelona, two weeks ago that difference was reduced to two points, but Barça’s successive defeats against Atletico Madrid and Villarreal have given Real Madrid the chance to move eight points clear with only eleven games to go. Surely Madrid won’t let it slip again now.
Madrid received Espanyol in the Bernabeu on Saturday evening with murmers of a crisis after their Champions League elimination at the hands of Roma, and when Valdo sneaked in unmarked at the far post to head Luis Garcia’s cross past Casillas after half an hour it looked as though the crisis would be full blown. With Van Nistlerooy out and Robinho having an off day, Madrid were struggling to create anything. However, in the 42nd minute Marcelo dribbled in on the left and sent in a fine cross for Higuain who kneed the ball past Carlos Kameni in the Espanyol goal.
Madrid improved in the second half but still had very few chances, a Guti shot forcing the only save of merit from Kameni. Then in the 72nd minute Raul surged into the area with Jarque pulling at his arm, Raul went down and referee Muñiz Fernandez pointed to the penalty spot. Raul showed his superb leadership qualities by sending Kameni the wrong way for his 200th league goal for Real Madrid. Espanyol’s players were not happy with the referee’s decision and after the final whistle Raul Tamudo, playing again after his two-month lay off, was given a second yellow card for protesting. The defeat means that Espanyol slip out of the top six for the first time this season.
Barça knew they couldn’t afford not to win at home to Villarreal, but Manuel Pelligrini’s team had different ideas. After half an hour Marcos Senna gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot after Guille Franco had been brought down by Victor Valdes. Barça showed once again how much they need the injured Leo Messi as Ronaldinho, Henry and Eto’o struggled to combine. It wasn’t until after Henry had been substituted by Bojan Krkic that Barça managed an equalizer when Xavi fired home from Iniesta’s cross. But it was never going to be Barça’s day and with ten minutes remaining Tomasson rounded Valdes to score after three neat passes cut through Barça’s defence. Click here for a full report on Barça-Villarreal.
Having thumped Barcelona last week Atletico Madrid were expected to win at Zaragoza who have just appointed Manolo Villanova as their fourth coach this season. Simao put Atletico in front with a fine shot from outside the area on 25 minutes, but Atletico’s defensive frailties let them down again when Pablo scored an own goal to bring things level. Diego Milito won the game for Zaragoza with a 72nd minute penalty after Simao had fouled Sergio Garcia.
Racing Santander moved level on points with Atletico after comfortably seeing off Betis 3-0 in El Sardinero. Betis resisted until the 48th minute when Melli was sent off for bringing down Tchite when he was clear through on goal. A minute later Racing took the lead when Duscher pounced on a mistake by Betis keeper Ricardo. Garay got the second ten minutes later after Tchite’s cross, and then in the dying minutes Tchite scored one for himself shooting low past Ricardo.
Mallorca hadn’t won since January but achieved their biggest ever win in the top flight by thrashing Recreativo 7-1. Juan Fernando Arango got the first after 18 minutes and then the goals flew in as Dani Güiza and Borja Valero hit two each before half time, Ruben’s goal for Recreativo was little consolation. In the second half Arango scored twice more to complete his hat-trick and there was still over half an hour to play. Fortunately for Recreativo, Mallorca decided to ease up and the score remained 7-1 until the final whistle.
Levante looked like they might cause a shock when Riga gave them a third minute lead at Sevilla, but Keita equalized with a header after 28 minutes and Luis Fabiano scored his 20th goal of the season at the start of the second half turning in Maresca’s cross. The 2-1 victory leaves Sevilla just two points away from a Champions League place.
Murcia continue with their horrible form losing 0-3 at home to Getafe. They have now lost five on the trot and are looking to be a relegation certainty. The held on until the 56th minute but then goals from Pablo Hernandez, Albin and Casquero earned the three points for Getafe.
Valencia missed a good chance to get in among the European places, letting a two goal lead slip at home to Deportivo. Mata and Villa scored in the first 25 minutes to put Valencia 2-0 up but Sergio and Lafita made thje most of Valencia’s poor defending to equalize before half time. Deportivo had the better of the second half but had to settle for a 2-2 draw.
Athletic Bilbao eased their relegation worries with a 2-0 victory over Valladolid. Gabilondo gave Athletic an early lead, but Valladolid were having the better of the game. Then in the 56th minute Valladolid’s Pedro Lopez was sent off for a foul on Aduriz who was through on goal, and ten minutes later Gabilondo got his second of the game to seal the points for Athletic.
Finally, Osasuna also got an important win beating Almeria 2-1. Kike Sola opened the scoring for the home team after six minutes, Corona equalized in the 20th minute, but ten minutes later Cesar Cruchaga got what proved to be the winner for Osasuna.
Top Six: Real Madrid 62 points, Barcelona 54, Villarreal 50, Atletico Madrid 44, Racing Santander 44, Sevilla 42.
Top Scorers: Luis Fabiano (Sevilla) 20, Diego Milito (Zaragoza) 15, Güiza (Mallorca) 14, Raul (Real Madrid) 13, Llorente (Valladolid) 12.