La Liga Week 23: Real Madrid’s Magnificent Seven

Barcelona have been missing Samuel Eto’o. While the Cameroon striker has been scoring aplenty in Ghana, his teammates have only managed to find the net five times in seven games. This weekend Real Madrid also found themselves without their main striker as Ruud Van Nistlerooy was injured; in response Guti, Raul and company turned in an electrifying display to demolish Valladolid 7-0 and extend their lead at the top of the table to eight points.

With Van Nistlerooy out, Madrid played with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Raul as a lone striker supported by Baptista, Robinho and Arjen Robben, who made only his third start for Madrid since his summer signing from Chelsea. Robinho got injured and had to go off after just fifteen minutes but by then Madrid were already leading after Guti and Robben combined to set up Baptista for a ninth minute goal.

Valladolid paid the price for their adventurous tactics, most teams come to the Bernabeu to defend deep, but Valladolid’s back four pushed way up the field which is exactly how Guti likes it. In a tremendous fifteen minute spell before half time Madrid scored four more and Guti was responsible for all of them. First he sent Raul through for Madrid’s second, and then Robben who scored his first league goal for Madrid, another Guti pass led to Baptista being brought down for a penalty which Raul converted, and then just before half time Guti got one for himself.

With the game already won Madrid eased up a bit in the second half but they still managed to score two more. There was a bit of luck to Guti’s second after good work from Robben, and with ten minutes remaining Drenthe also scored his first league goal and Madrid’s seventh after yet another assist from Guti.

Barcelona failed to keep up the pressure on Madrid and were somewhat lucky not to get beat by Sevilla. In a one-sided first half Sevilla should really have managed more than a solitary goal from Diego Capel, but Victor Valdés kept Barça in the game with some decent saves. In the second half Sevilla allowed Barça possession with the intention of hitting them on the break. However, Barça finally found a hole in Sevilla’s defence fifteen minutes from the end, when Messi who had been very quiet, sent in Xavi to toepoke past Palop. Messi then provoked Keita’s sending off and Barça suddenly sensed that victory could be theirs. In the last ten minutes Sevilla were reduced to fouling Messi near the area, but Ronaldinho’s free kicks (four in the last fifteen minutes) were all disappointing and it ended 1-1. Click here for a full report on Sevilla-Barça.

Espanyol slip down to fifth place after a surprising home defeat to Recreativo who started the day second from bottom. Two early goals from Sinama Pongolle put Recreativo ahead until new signing Ewerton pulled a goal back before half time. Espanyol’s efforts in the second half came to nothing, they are obviously missing the injured Raul Tamudo, and Recreativo held on for a 1-2 victory that moves them out of the bottom three.

Villarreal move up to third place after a victory in extremis at Murcia. Striker Guille Franco got the only goal of the game in the 93rd minute after receiving a pass from Josico. Franco was possibly offside and Murcia will feel they deserved more from the game. Murcia now slip down into 19th place and have taken just one point from their last five matches.

Atletico Madrid earned an important 0-2 win at Racing Santander to go above Espanyol into fourth place. Racing started the game well but little by little Atletico took control led by a superb Diego Forlan. In the 55th minute Forlan took advantage of a poor clearance from Garay to score the first, and in the 73rd minute Forlan cut in from the right before hitting a tremendous left foot shot past Coltorti.

Racing’s defeat has left a tight battle for the sixth placed spot. Racing are still on 34 points but Sevilla, Almeria and Valencia are just one point behind them. Ronald Koeman’s luck is finally changing and Valencia won for the second consecutive week, beating Betis 3-1 at Mestalla. David Villa is fit again and scored two of Valencia’s goals and set up the other for Silva. Edu scored the Betis goal with a header.

Almeria followed last week’s win over Real Madrid with a 0-0 draw at Mallorca. Neither side showed enough ambition to win a game that was dominated by the defences. Mallorca’s top scorer Gúiza only had one chance but his shot was comfortably saved by Diego Alves.

At the bottom end of the table Deportivo could do no better than a 1-1 draw at home to Getafe. Depor took a deserved lead just before half time when Mario scored an own goal, but Getafe came back in the second half and substitute Uche grabbed an equalizer. The point wasn’t enough to prevent Depor moving back into the relegation zone.

Osasuna earned some relief with a 1-0 victory over Zaragoza. Czech midfielder Jaroslav Plasil scored the winner on the stroke of half time. This was new coach Javier Irureta’s first defeat since taking over at Zaragoza.

Finally, Athletic Bilbao beat Levante 1-0 at San Mames thanks to a 54th minute header from Fernando Llorente.

Top Six: Real Madrid 56 points, Barcelona 48, Villarreal 42, Atletico Madrid 41, Espanyol 39, Racing Santander 34.

Top Scorers: Luis Fabiano 16, Diego Milito 14, Van Nistlerooy 12, Nihat 11, Güiza 11

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