La Liga Week 20: Real Madrid beat Atletico and Henry scores for Barcelona

Real Madrid stay seven points clear at the top of La Liga after overcoming Atletico Madrid 0-2 at the Vicente Calderon stadium. An early goal from Raul and then one from Ruud Van Nistlerooy were enough to take the three points as Iker Casillas continues to stop anything that goes near his goal.

Bernd Schuster decided to return Guti to the midfield alongside Gago and Sneijder which meant that Julio Baptista was dropped to the substitutes bench. Meanwhile for Atletico Thiaggo Motta was named in the starting XI for the first time since his move from Barcelona in the summer.

It took Madrid only 32 seconds to take the lead. Pablo gave the ball away to Robinho near the corner flag and the Brazilian sent in a low cross for Raul to finish clinically for his ninth goal of the season. After 10 minutes Madrid were forced to re-organize their defence when Pepe had to go off injured. Salgado came on at right back and Sergio Ramos switched to the centre beside Cannavaro. Simao was getting the better of Salgado as Atletico searched for an equalizer, and the game might have turned out differently if Simao hadn’t got injured himself as his replacement Reyes did very little against his ex-team.

Atletico’s best period came between the twentieth and fortieth minutes. Forlan was frustrated by Casillas and then Motta headed against the crossbar from a corner. Casillas then made two splendid saves first from a header by Raul Garcia and two minutes later he just got a touch on a shot from Kun Agüero but it was enough to divert the ball onto the crossbar. A minute after this Madrid scored their second. Sneijder sent in a corner from the left, Pablo failed to clear and Van Nistlerooy’s first time shot was touched onto the post by Abbiati but the ball bounced into the goal.

In the second half Madrid defended more solidly and Casillas had less to do. Madrid always looked likely to score a third on the break but Sneijder and Robinho missed their best chances. Atletico had the better of the game between the two areas but Madrid proved yet again that games are won and lost inside the penalty box.

Barcelona won a disappointing match at home to Racing Santander. Neither side managed to create many chances and the only goal of the game came after a horrible mistake by Navas at a corner gifted Thierry Henry a simple header from two yards out. Leo Messi returned after injury for the last twenty-five minutes and immediately showed that he has lost none of his pace and skill. When Eto’o returns from the African Cup perhaps we will finally get to see Messi, Eto’o and Henry play together. For a full report on the game click here.

Espanyol lost for the second week running away to Valladolid and also conceded the fastest goal in La Liga’s history. Valladolid’s Joseba Llorente took just 7.42 seconds to beat Espanyol’s stand-in keeper Lafuente. See the goal here. Llorente got a second goal after half an hour and despite Torrejon pulling one back for the visitors, Valladolid held on for the three points. The defeat means Espanyol slip down to fifth place in the table.

Villarreal took advantage of the defeats of Espanyol and Atletico to move back into third place after beating Valencia 3-0. Pires scored the first with a curler after six minutes, and then second half goals from Capdevila and Nihat sealed a comfortable win. Villarreal could have won the game by six or seven but Nihat, twice, and Pires were denied by the woodwork. Valencia were overrun and one has to wonder how long Ronald Koeman will survive as their coach.

Sevilla lost their tenth league game of the season going down 3-2 at Getafe. Luis Fabiano scored his 13th goal of the season to put Sevilla ahead after 15 minutes, but goals from Casquero and Albin put the home team in front. In the 89th minute Ivica Dragutinovic scored an equalizer that looked like earning Sevilla a point, but in injury time substitute Cosmin Contra headed home a winner for Getafe.

Deportivo are in serious relegation trouble after losing 1-0 at Almeria. Depor held on until the 87th minute when Corona’s free kick was flicked on by Juanito and Pulido stuck the ball home. Deportivo now find themselves five points away from safety and they will have an uphill struggle to survive.

Ander Garitano got off to a winning start as the new Zaragoza coach after Victor Fernandez was sacked last week. A goal from Oliveira and two from Diego Milito gave Zaragoza a 3-1 victory over Murcia whose last minute consolation goal was scored by Ivan Alonso. The defeat sees Murcia slip into the relegation zone.

Osasuna moved out of the bottom three after a 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao. The sending off of Yeste after 62 minutes unsettled Athletic, and Osasuna took full advantage with goals from Dady on 67 minutes and Vela two minutes later.

Betis are still struggling to get away from the danger zone and they could do no better than a 1-1 draw at home to Recreativo. Edu gave Betis hope when he opened the scoring after 56 minutes, but the home fans joy was shortlived as Javi Guerrero equalized a minute later.

Finally, bottom club Levante scraped a 2-2 draw at home to Mallorca. Geijo put Levante in front after 19 minutes, but two goals from the excellent Dani Güiza looked like winning it for the visitors. Alvaro earned a point for Levante with an equalizer three minutes from the end.

Top Six: Real Madrid 50 points, Barcelona 43, Villarreal 38, Atletico Madrid 37, Espanyol 36, Racing Santander 32.

Top Scorers: Diego Milito (Zaragoza) 13, Luis Fabiano (Sevilla) 13, Van Nistlerooy (Real Madrid) 12, Güiza (Mallorca) 11, Nihat (Villarreal) 11.

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