La Liga Week 18: Real Madrid ride their luck to stay 7 points clear of Barcelona

For yet another week Real Madrid have Iker Casillas and the decisiveness of their forwards to thank for their victory. Second half goals from Ruud Van Nistlerooy and Robinho gave them a 2-0 victory over Zaragoza who try as they might could not beat the Madrid keeper. Casillas made at least five decent saves when the score was still 0-0, he has now been 378 minutes without conceding a goal.

Bernd Schuster made just one change to the team that beat Barcelona at Camp Nou before Christmas. The hero of that game Pepe was rested and Marcelo returned to left back with Heinze partnering Cannavaro in central defence. After just 14 minutes Heinze had to go off injured which forced Schuster to reorganize the defence, Miguel Torres came on at right back with Sergio Ramos moving to the centre alongside Cannavaro.

The new look defence had problems to control Diego Milito and Oliveira, and Sergio Garcia caused problems on the left. However, every time they had a shot on goal Casillas was equal to it. On the hour Oliveira had Zaragoza’s best effort but this time the ball bounced out off the far post. Five minutes later Madrid took the lead with their first clear chance of the game. Robinho made a great run down the right side and his cross was met by a powerful Van Nistlerooy header into the back of the net. Robinho made it 2-0 on 76 minutes when he shot home from the edge of the area to finish off a Madrid counter attack.

Barcelona kept up their challenge with a 0-2 away win at Mallorca. Fit again Thierry Henry was left on the bench but had one of his better performances for Barça after coming on during the second half. Barça struggled to break through the Mallorca defence until Rafa Marquez headed in a Xavi corner on 63 minutes. Samuel Eto’o scored against his ex-team in the last minute to secure the three points for the Catalans. Click here for a full report on the game

Espanyol continued with their excellent season, beating fellow Champions League hopefuls Villarreal 3-0 at the Olympic Stadium. In a fantastic first half, Raul Tamudo twice, and Valdo scored to give the home team a commanding half-time lead. Rossi came close for Villarreal in the second half, hitting the post with a free kick, and Tamudo was unlucky not to get a hat-trick when Fuentes cleared his effort off the line. The win keeps Espanyol in third place just one point behind local rivals Barça.

Atletico Madrid move back into the top four after winning 0-3 against Deportivo. This was Atletico’s first win at Riazor since the 94/95 season. Diego Forlan and Kun Agüero continued their lethal strike partnership by both getting on the scoresheet. Jose Manuel Jurado headed in Atletico’s third.

Valencia are still in freefall with Ronald Koeman as coach. They could only draw 0-0 at home to bottom club Levante in the Valencian local derby. Joaquin came closest for Valencia hitting the woodwork from a free kick. Substitute Zigic was sent off near the end for an over-the-ball tackle. Levante are still rooted to the bottom but this was their first away point of the season.

Sevilla got the best of the big local derby, beating Betis 3-0 at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Luis Fabiano returned after suspension to score twice in the first half which keeps him in pole position for this season’s Pichichi competition with 12 goals. Dani Alves got the third in the 62nd minute with a direct free kick. This was a one-sided derby and Betis continue to struggle in the relegation zone, though it should be noted that only three points separate 18th placed Betis and 10th placed Zaragoza.

Racing Santander continue to be this season’s surprise team. Their 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao maintains them in sixth position. Tchite who had come on for the injured Munitis, scored the winner in the 43rd minute heading in a free kick from the right. The defeat leaves Athletic down in 17th position just one point above Betis.

Valladolid recorded their biggest away victory of the season winning 0-3 at Getafe. Vivar Dorado scored twice against his old club and Alvaro Rubio added the other. Valladolid now move above Getafe into 12th place.

In the other Andaluz derby this weekend, Recreativo and Almeria drew 1-1 in the Nuevo Colombino in Huelva. Sinama Pongolle got an early goal for the home team before Mane equalized after 19 minutes. Recreativo deserved more but Almeria keeper Diego Alves had a great game.

Finally, Murcia had striker Henok Goitom to thank for their 2-0 victory over Osasuna. Goitom scored the first after a fine run and shot in the 72th minute, and then he won the penalty that allowed Abel to score in injury time.

Top Six: Real Madrid 44 pts, Barcelona 37, Espanyol 36, Atletico Madrid 34, Villarreal 32, Racing 29.

Top Scorers: Luis Fabiano (Sevilla) 12, Tamudo (Espanyol) 10, Van Nistlerooy (Real Madrid) 9, Diego Milito (Zaragoza) 9.

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