It seems as if neither of Spain’s big two really want to win La Liga this season. Real Madrid’s defeat at Deportivo was their eighth defeat in 2008 and thet have now lost four of their last seven league games. Barcelona have consistantly blown their chances of capitalizing on their rivals mistakes: this weekend they twice surrendered the lead and had to settle for a 2-2 draw at Almeria which leaves them seven points behind Madrid with ten games remaining.
Real Madrid were again without the injured Ruud Van Nistlerooy, and Bernd Schuster decided to play Roberto Soldado in attack alongside Raul, leaving Robinho, Baptista and Higuain on the bench. However, they could find no way through the packed Deportivo defence and failed to manage one shot on target in the first half.
Deportivo playing a 5-4-1 formation were just as uninspired going forward and the game looked like it would be a boring 0-0 draw. But in the 57th minute Deportivo’s left back Filipe Luis got past Torres and sent in a cross which Pepe deflected past his own goalkeeper. Madrid failed to react to the goal and despite the appearance of Robinho, Higuain and Baptista near the end, could not manage a decent chance. Deportivo had a couple of chances on the counter attack to wrap things up but in the end they were delighted with the 1-0 win which now makes it 17 seasons that Madrid have failed to win in the league at Riazor.
Barcelona had the chance to reduce the gap to five points but their inability to defend at corners cost them dearly. With Messi and Ronaldinho injured it was a surprise to see Thierry Henry left on the bench which meant a forward line of Bojan, Eto’o and Iniesta. After seventeen minutes Diego Alves failed to hold an Iniesta shot and Bojan was quick to pounce and give Barça the lead. However, Almeria were threatening and just past the half hour Pulido got in unmarked at the near post to head home a corner from the right.
Early in the second half Rijkaard brought on Henry for the ineffective Edmilson and the Frenchman immediately had an effect setting up a goal for Samuel Eto’o. Barça were reduced to ten men for the last twenty minutes after Gabi Milito was sent off for two yellow cards. They might have held on for the win but for poor defending again at a corner with just five minutes to go, this time it was Uche who headed in a corner from the left. Click here for a full report on Almeria-Barça.
Villarreal move to within two points of Barça after a 2-0 win over Zaragoza. Nihat opened the scoring after ten minutes with his twelfth goal of the season, but for much of the rest of the game Zaragoza were on top. Zaragoza were, however, without their top scorer Diego Milito and Villarreal were saved by a fine performance from goalkeeper Diego Lopez. In the second half a rare break from Villarreal resulted in a penalty that Rossi converted to seal the three points.
Atletico Madrid stay in fourth place after beating bottom of the table Levante 3-0 in El Calderon. Simao Sabrosa was the architect of the victory, scoring the first with a header after Serrano failed to clear Diego Forlan’s cross, and setting up the second for Forlan before half time. Forlan got his second of the game and thirteenth of the season in the 53rd minute after Levante goalkeepewr Kujovic failed to hold a shot from Kun Agüero.
Sevilla kept up their challenge for a Champions League place by winning 1-2 in Valencia. Valencia’s president Juan Soler resigned this week and the team he left behind looked a mess against Sevilla who went 0-2 up after just 20 minutes. Luis Fabiano scored the first with a direct free kick and then got a lucky one deflecting in a shot that was going wide from Keita. With the work done Sevilla eased up and Valencia finally got a last minute consolation goal through Albiol.
Espanyol moved back into the top six with an agonizing 2-1 victory over Mallorca. Dani Güiza gave the visitors an early lead and Espanyol had to wait until the 57th minute for an equalizer when Hector brought down Luis Garcia for a penalty that Luis Garcia got up to score. Then in the 88th minute Luis Garcia got the wrong side of Ramis to head home Angel’s cross for the winner.
Racing Santander slipped down to seventh place after a 2-1 defeat at Getafe. Euzebiusz Smolarek put Racing in front with a header in the 54th minute, but Ikechukwu Uche equalized for the home team ten minutes later. Jaime Gavilan scored Getafe’s winner thirteen minutes from the end and Racing keeper Toño was sent off for kicking Gavilan after the goal. Getafe’s Braulio was also sent off for a second yellow card for getting involved in the incident. The teams meet again on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey semi final.
The ugly side of football was seen when the Betis-Athletic Bilbao was suspended in the 70th minute after Athletic keeper Armando was hit by a bottle thrown from the crowd. The bloke who threw it looked to be at least thirty-five years old and he is now sitting in a police cell awaiting trial. Armando was stretchered off with a cut under his right eye. Athletic were winning the match 1-2 and the league will now have to decide whether the result will stand and what punishment will be given to Betis. In February 2007 Juande Ramos was also hit by a bottle at Betis when he was managing Sevilla.
Ex-coach of the Spanish national team, Javier Clemente, has taken over at struggling Murcia, though his first game in charge did nothing to end the run of defeats as Recreativo beat them 4-2. De Lucas gave Murcia hope when he scored in the 16th minute but Sinama equalized two minutes later. In the second half Ruben put Recreativo in front and then Murcia lost Arzo to two yellow cards. Sinama got his second to make it 3-1 before Ivan Alonso pulled one back from the penalty spot. With five minutes left Marquitos made it 4-2 to Recreativo who despite the win are still in the bottom three but are now level on points with Valladolid, Zaragoza and Betis. There is going to be a mighty struggle to see who goes down with Levante and Murcia who both look doomed.
Finally, Valladolid and Osasuna fought out a poor 0-0 draw which suggested that both teams will be in danger of going down until the final week of the season.
Top Six: Real Madrid 62, Barcelona 55, Villarreal 53, Atletico Madrid 47, Sevilla 45, Espanyol 45.
Top Scorers: Luis Fabiano 22, Diego Milito 15, Güiza 15, Forlan 13, Raul 13.