La Liga week 15: Narrow wins for Real Madrid and Barçelona

Real Madrid maintain their four point advantage at the top of the Spanish league thanks to a Ruud van Nistlerooy cracker which was enough to earn them three points against Athletic Bilbao at San Mames. Barcelona kept up the pressure with a hard earned win at home to struggling Deportivo de la Coruña.

Bernd Schuster decided to reserve Guti for Madrid’s important Champions League game against Lazio on Tuesday, and started with Sneijder, Diarra and Baptista in midfield with Robinho supporting Raul and Van Nistlerooy. In the first half, Madrid created very little and only tested Aranzubia, the Athletic goalkeeper, with two shots in a minute from Raul and Robinho.

The best two chances of the half were for Athletic, in the eighth minute a mistake from Cannavaro let in David Lopez for a one-on-one with Iker Casillas which the Madrid keeper won. Then in the 28th minute Koikili whipped in a fine cross from the left which was headed towards goal by Llorente, but once again Casillas saved the day for Madrid.

Madrid improved in the second half and took the lead in the 55th minute. Van Nistlerooy took advantage of a mistake by Aitor Ocio to advance and hit one from outside the area which flew past Aranzubia into the net. The Dutchman almost made it 0-2 ten minutes later when he tried to dribble round the goalie only for Koikili to nip in and rob the ball off his toe.

On 70 minutes Robinho hit the post from 20 metres after a nice dribble. Athletic had their best chance a couple of minutes later when Llorente ran through on Casillas but his angled shot rolled just wide of the far post. Madrid held on after that as Athletic continued to push forward. The corner count of Athletic 5 Madrid 0 is testimony to the fact that this was not an easy win for the leaders.

Barcelona were probably expecting an easy home win against Deportivo, but a second minute goal from Cristian meant they had to battle to comeback and win 2-1. Samuel Eto’o and Deco returned to action after lengthy injuries, and the Cameroonian striker showed flashes of his old self which will give Barça fans hope for the future. There was also a return to the starting lineup for Ronaldinho who had been left on the bench for the last two games.

Barça got the equalizer just before half time through a Ronaldinho penalty after Andres Iniesta was brought down by Cristian. They had to wait until the 71st minute for the winner when Munua could only palm Puyol’s cross into the path of Xavi who had the easy job of tapping the ball home. For a full report on Barça-Depor go to

Atletico Madrid moved into third place after an eventful game with Getafe. There were not seven goals this time but there were four red cards. Atletico got the only goal of the game in the 19th minute, Simao escaped down the left and his low cross was turned in at the near post by Diego Forlan. The red cards all came in the second half; first in the 64th minute Aguero saw his second yellow after foolishly handling a cross, Getafe’s Licht went a few minutes later for a second bookable offence. Reyes got a direct red for a criminal tackle/lunge from behind, and Getafe keeper Pato Abbondanzieri saw red for handling outside the area. Getafe ended the game with outfield player Contra between the posts but no more goals were scored.

The biggest surprise of the week came at El Madrigal where relegation candidates Betis pulled off an 0-1 away win over high-flying Villarreal. Capi scored the only goal of the game heading in Xisco’s cross in the ninth minute. Betis keeper Ricardo was the hero of the day making a number of fine saves. This is not the ex-Man Utd goalie Ricardo Lopez, this is the Portuguese national keeper Ricardo Pereira who saved those penalties from Lampard, Gerrard and Carragher in the 2006 World Cup.

Espanyol missed a great chance to move into the top four when they let a 1-3 lead slip in the last few minutes against ten-man Zaragoza. Diego Milito had given Zaragoza an early lead but Espanyol immediately replied with goals from Tamudo, Valdo and Zabaleta to lead 1-3 after only 14 minutes. Zaragoza were down to ten men in the 49th minute when Luccin was sent off for a horrible tackle on Riera. Espanyol let their guard down in the last five minutes and allowed Oliveira to score twice to make it 3-3 at the end.

Ronald Koeman’s Valencia continue to disappoint. Despite changing to a 4-3-3 formation with a front three of Arizmendi-Villa-Vicente, Valencia could not find a way through against a conservative Osasuna in Pamplona and had to settle for a 0-0 draw. Valencia now slip down to seventh in the table and Koeman will want things to improve before next Saturday’s game with his ex-team Barcelona.

Racing Santander took advantage of Valencia’s slip to move up to sixth after a 3-1 home win against Mallorca. Webo gave the visitors the lead after eleven minutes but Jorge Lopez lelelled things soon after. Webo was then sent off after elbowing Oriol in the 21st minute. Racing made the most of their numerical advantage, taking the lead on 29 minutes through Duschler. Racing were then also reduced to ten men when Oscar Serrano saw his second yellow card of the game after just 32 minutes. Mallorca, however, could not find an equalizer, and Munitis made it 3-1 near the end to secure the points for Racing.

Sevilla got a much needed 3-1 win at home to Murcia and move up to 9th place. Luis Fabiano scored the opening goal after just four minutes after an assist from Jesus Navas. Sevilla had to wait until the 58th minute for the second when the ref judged Peña’s foul on Kerzhakov to be inside the area when most thought the foul was outside. Maresca converted the penalty. Murcia pulled one back through substitute Baiano but Luis Fabiano finished the job in injury time with his tenth goal of the season.

Almeria and Valladolid fought out a close game which was decided in the space of one minute in the second half. Valladolid defender Garcia Calvo was sent off in the 74th minute for stopping a goal-scoring opportunity. From the resulting free kick Corono flicked the ball up for Negredo who smashed home a beautiful volley to give Almeria the three points.

Finally, Levante stay rooted to the bottom, with only seven points from fifteen games, after losing 0-2 at home to Recreativo. Camuñas and Jesus Vazquez scored the goals for Recreativo who hadn’t scored an away goal since September 26th. Recre move up from 17th to 13th thanks to the win.

Top Six: Real Madrid 35pts, Barcelona 31, Atletico Madrid 30, Villarreal 28, Espanyol 27, Racing Santander 26.

Top Scorers: 10 goals, Luis Fabiano (Sevilla); 8 goals, Messi (Barcelona), Raul (Real Madrid).

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