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La Liga Week 24: Barcelona cut Real Madrid’s lead to five points



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Football Club Barcelona’s win at Zaragoza has pulled them back to within five points of Real Madrid who lost for the third time this season in Andalucia. This time it was Real Betis who beat the champions 2-1 after an early goal from Royston Drenthe had given Madrid the lead. Madrid have now lost on all three visits to Andalucia at Sevilla, Almeria and Betis, and in two weeks’ time they visit Recreativo de Huelva, the province’s other Primera División team.

Bernd Schuster decided on the same team that had beaten Valladolid 7-0 last week except for Drenthe who came in for the injured Robinho, which meant that Ruud Van Nistlerooy started on the bench; perhaps Schuster was reserving him for the Champions League match with Roma on Tuesday. Madrid began well and for the first half an hour it looked like they would cruise to another comfortable victory.

In the second minute Baptista’s free kick forced a good diving save from Ricardo and just three minutes later Gago sent Robben into the area and the Dutchman’s low cross was met by Drenthe at the far post to open the scoring. Betis couldn’t get into the game until they surprised Madrid’s defence with two goals in five minutes just after the half hour. First Pavone crossed from the left and Edu beat Marcelo at the far post to head past Casillas, then Madrid were caught out by an identical cross from the left, this time from Edu, which found Mark Gonzalez who nodded the ball home. As Betis’s confidence grew Madrid struggled to create chances, and fifteen minutes into the second half Schuster put on Van Nistlerooy for Drenthe.

Six minutes later Van Nistlerooy had Madrid’s best effort of the second half shooting against the base of the near post, but Betis held on for an hard-worked victory which will ease their relegation worries.

Barça went into their game at Zaragoza knowing that Madrid had lost. Frank Rijkaard decided to rest Andres Iniesta for the Champions League game in Glasgow on Wednesday, and preferred Edmilson in place of Toure Yaya back from the African Cup Of Nations. Puyol returned to the team at right back while Ronaldinho was once again left on the substitutes bench. Barça certainly missed the creativity of Iniesta and struggled to make chances, however, in the 33rd minute Deco sent in a cross to Thierry Henry who controlled the ball between his chest and right arm before sidefooting it past Cesar.

Zaragoza had a great chance to equalize before half time but Diego Milito blasted his penalty over the crossbar. Seven minutes into the second half Zaragoza got a deserved equalizer when Oliveira outsprinted Marquez and shot under Valdes. With fifteen minutes remaining Ronaldinho came on and in the 82nd minute Juanfran was adjudged to have handled needlessly in his own area; Ronaldinho stepped up to score the penalty and win it 1-2 for Barça. For a full report on Zaragoza-Barça click here.

Atletico Madrid continue to lack the consistency to catch the top two. A 1-2 home defeat to Athletic Bilbao leaves them in fourth place. Antonio Lopez scored the first goal for Atletico in the fifth minute when his cross fooled Armando in the Athletic goal. But Athletic hit back with two goals before half time from Susueta and Llorente. Atletico weren’t helped by the sending off of Raul Garcia in the 51st minute for a foul on Yeste.

Sevilla moved up to sixth place with an excellent 2-4 victory at Espanyol. Strikers Luis Fabiano and Freddie Kanoute both scored early goals to put Sevilla 0-2 up before Luis Garcia pulled one back before half time. Espanyol’s Zabaleta was sent off with 25 minutes left and Sevilla took full advantage when Poulson’s deflected shot found the net. Espanyol quickly reduced differences through Coro but Capel finished the job two minutes later. Espanyol have now won just three points in their last six games.

Almeria continue their surge up the table after beating Murcia 1-0 with a headed goal from Negredo just before the break. Much of the credit goes to Almeria keeper Diego Alves who has now not conceded a goal in the last six matches. Almeria move above Racing into 7th position while Murcia remain second from bottom with a miserly one point from their last six matches.

Racing Santander slip out of the top six despite earning a valuable 0-0 draw at Villarreal. Rossi missed a penalty for the home side after Oscar Serrano had fouled Cazorla. Racing then had their best chance of the game when Barcelona-bound Ezequiel Garay headed against the bar. Rossi thought he had redeemed himself with what looked like a good goal in the 89th minute but the linesman flagged for offside. Villarreal stay in third place thanks to Atletico Madrid’s defeat.

Recreativo beat Deportivo 3-2 in a thrilling game in Huelva. Verdu put the visitors ahead with a ninth minute penalty after Sinama Pongolle had handled in the defensive wall from a Verdu free kick. Beto equalized with a header after 52 minutes and was then sent off for a second yellow card when he pulled off his jersey to celebrate. Sinama Pongolle gave Recreativo the lead four minutes later with a splendid strike but Riki equalized for Deportivo with ten minutes to go, only for Martin Caceres to grab the winner for Recre in the 87th minute.

Bottom of the table Levante continued their mini-revival with a 2-1 win over Osasuna. Monreal gave the visitors the lead with a direct free kick in the 20th minute, but in the second half Alvaro equalized from Juanmi’s cross and Geijo finished off a great Levante counter attack to seal the victory. Levante have taken seven points from their last four games but are still ten points behind Osasuna in 17th position.

Valladolid fresh from their 7-0 hammering last week drew 1-1 at home to Mallorca. Valladolid dominated the game and took the lead when Llorente scored from inside the six-yard but a goal from Ibagaza in the 80th minute won a point for the islanders.

Finally, Getafe and Valencia couldn’t manage a goal between them. The closest goal attempt came from Valencia when Joaquin hit the post, but Valencia’s effort to win the game faded after David Villa was sent off for kicking De La Red in the 54th minute.

Top Six: Real Madrid 56 points, Barcelona 51, Villarreal 43, Atletico 41, Espanyol 39, Sevilla 36.

Top Scorers: Luis Fabiano 17, Diego Milito 14, Van Nistlerooy 12, Gúiza 11, Nihat 11.