Real Madrid were set back by their first league defeat since the start of November, losing 2-0 at Almeria on Saturday evening. After a run of eight straight victories this loss proves the Madrid players are human and breathes new life into the race for the title. Barcelona almost missed their chance to reduce differences but a goal from Xavi Hernandez three minutes from time gave them a 1-0 win over Osasuna to narrow the gap to six points.
It was a great performance from Almeria who never allowed Madrid to settle. The midfield’s constant pressurizing gave Guti and Sneijder no space to create and Raul and Van Nistlerooy received little service. Almeria took the lead after fifteen minutes when Cannavaro slipped and tried to head the ball clear from the floor, the ball only went as far as Juanito whose shot crossed the line before Casillas could get to it.
The hard work from Unai Emery’s men left Madrid without time, and they were reduced to sending long balls towards Raul with little effect. Van Nistlerooy got injured and had to be replaced at half time by Higuain, and then straight after the restart Almeria were awarded a penalty when Cannavaro needlessly brought down Negredo inside the area. Negredo took the kick himself to make it 2-0. Madrid did make some chances to try and get back in the game but Diego Alves in the Almeria goal was equal to everything.
Barcelona knew they had to beat Osasuna to take advantage of their rival’s slip. However, despite creating chances in the first half, Messi, Henry and Bojan could not find a way past Ricardo. In the second half Frank Rijkaard took off Messi and Henry for Giovani and the out-of-form Ronaldinho; the chances dried up and it wasn’t until the 88th minute when Xavi made the most of a fortunate rebound that Barça finally found the net. With Samuel Eto’o at the African Cup, Barça are struggling in front of goal and have now only scored four goals in the six games that Eto’o has missed. Click here for a full report on Barça-Osasuna.
Atletico Madrid missed a chance to go third when they failed to beat lowly Murcia at El Calderón. Murcia took a surprise lead after 50 minutes when a penalty was given for Eller’s foul on Ivan Alonso, Jofre made no mistake from twelve yards. Atletico equalized after a tremendous counter attack led by Agúero ended with Luis Garcia shooting home past Notario. Agüero had to go off a few minutes later with an injured ankle and he will be out for about ten days. Atletico failed to find a winner and the game ended 1-1. Despite the point Murcia now slip down into the bottom three.
Honours were shared at El Madrigal where Villarreal who are also fighting for a Champions League place, only managed a 1-1 draw with Mallorca. Rossi put Villarreal ahead from the penalty spot after the ref blew for an inexistant foul on Cazorla. The visitors also received a dodgy penalty before half time which Basinas converted.
Espanyol put an end to their three-match losing run by winning 0-1 at Getafe. Coach Ernesto Valverde surprised by leaving Albert Riera on the bench along with new signing Ewerton. Valverde chose to play home-grown Jonathan Soriano as a lone striker; Jonathan paid back his coach’s faith with the only goal of the game after seven minutes. Espanyol move back into third place above Villarreal and Atletico.
Sixth placed Racing Santander travelled to bottom of the league Levante, and were lucky to come away with a point. Levante took a deserved lead after 57 minutes when a corner arrived at the feet of Riga who shot home from near the penalty spot. Fifteen minutes from the end Duscher ran into the Levante penalty area before shooting wide, the referee, Paradas Romero, surprised everyone by awarding a penalty. Duscher powered home from 12 yards and the game ended all square at 1-1.
Sevilla moved closer to a Uefa Cup spot with a 1-2 victory at Recreativo. Despite being reduced to ten men when Mosquero was sent off before half time, Sevilla took the lead in the 45th minute when Luis Fabiano chipped keeper Sorrentino. Ten minutes from the end Recreativo also had a man sent off when substitute Ersen saw red for kicking Poulsen. Luis Fabiano then scored his sixteenth of the season before Beto got a late consolation goal for Recre.
Valencia completed a good week by winning at Valladolid. Having reached the Copa Del Rey semi finals on Wednesday night, the victory may give some much needed breathing space to beleaguered coach Ronald Koeman. Mata gave Valencia the lead on the hour when he shot low past Alberto. Then in the 71st minute David Villa made it 0-2 after good work from Arizmendi.
Deportivo secured their second successive win with a 0-1 victory at Betis. Pablo Amo scored the only goal of the game after 35 minutes and with the three points Depor move out of the relegation zone.
Finally, Zaragoza got their first win under new coach Javier Irureta, beating Athletic Bilbao 1-0 in La Romareda. Oliveira volleyed in the goal after a good cross from the right by Diego Milito. In the second half both Milito and Sergio Garcia hit the bar, and Athletic ended the game with ten men when Aitor Ocio received his third red card of the season.
Top Six: Real Madrid 53 points, Barcelona 47, Espanyol 39, Villarreal 39, Atletico 38, Racing 34.
Top Scorers: Luis Fabiano 16, Diego Milito 14, Van Nistlerooy 12, Nihat 11, Güiza 11.