Both Sevilla and Barcelona weren’t at full strength owing to their Copa Del Rey clashes mid week. Jordi Roura, who has come under fire for failing to inspire Barcelona in the absence of Tito Vilanova, made quite a few changes. Xavi, Busquets, Pedro and Jordi Alba were on the bench as Puyol and Fabregas were left out of the squad. FC Barcelona were coming off an uninspiring 2-0 loss at the San Siro and were shocked in the 42nd minute when Alberto Botia rose above Dani Alves to nod past Victor Valdes to give Sevilla the lead before half time.
Barcelona did not start well as Sevilla employed identical tactics as that of AC Milan in the Champions League as they denied space and tried to attack on the break with Jesus Navas on the wings. Post-break, Barca came back into the game and David Villa equalized in the 52nd minute and then eight minutes later Lionel Messi scored in his 15th consecutive game to take his tally to 38 for the season. Sevilla did have chances to equalize the game with Alvaro Negredo came off the bench and but failed to capitalize on a glorious chance.
Real Madrid travelled to Riazor, a stadium which Real Madrid has found the hardest to breach in recent times and only Guti’s magic back-heel could secure a victory at this famous stadium. Real Madrid too rested its key players but Deportivo were the first to score as Riki finished off a quick counter-attack with a superb strike past Diego Lopez at his near post. Real Madrid were finding it difficult to break down Deportivo as the home team played some deft football at times. Marcelo was poor on the left as Mourinho made all his three substitutions early in the second half.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira came on for Essien, Marcelo and Modric as Real Madrid attacked with greater verve and intelligence. Kaka equalized through a superb curling shot just outside the box as Mourinho’s men started buzzing with more energy. Ronaldo looked threatening and Kaka capitalized on it as he threaded a fine ball to the Portuguese super star who laid it off to Higuain who scored and Real Madrid held onto their lead. Kaka was mighty impressive as he had a hand in both the goals and also his work-rate was out standing earning a praise from Aitor Karanka with post-match reports also suggesting he could start instead of Di Maria in the Copa Del Rey clash against Barcelona.
The biggest talking about in this game was not the goals but a sending off again. Last week, Sergio Ramos was sent off in under a minute for two questionable bookable offenses. This time Angel Di Maria decided he could do better as he earned two yellow cards in less than 10 secs and even ridiculously for the same offense: providing a distraction for the free-kick. Commenting on the same Karanka did not mince words. “I haven’t talked to him but I think it was a harsh decision. ” He signed off with a cheeky swipe, “It will be news the day we end a game with 11 players”.
Atletico Madrid won 1-0 against Espanyol thanks to a Falcao penalty but had to play the second half with 10 men as Gabi was sent off in the final moments of the first half. It was Falcao’s 21st goal in La Liga which ensured that Atletico were still four points ahead of Real Madrid and 12 behind Barcelona. Diego Simeone was all praises for his team’s performance in the second half with a man down and call the effort ‘extraordinary’.
Atletico would need to put another extra-ordinary effort against Sevilla in the Copa Del Rey mid-week to retain their lead and advance to the final of the competition against either Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Valencia were another team which made an impressive come-back in a draw against Real Zaragoza as they moved within a point of fourth placed Malaga. Zaragoza took the lead courtesy an Apono penalty and then Helder Postiga doubled the lead in the 32nd minute.
Valencia came back strong as Brazilian Jonas scored twice, in the 36th and 69th minute, to bring the score level. Valencia were given a great chance to win the game when Zaragoza’s goal keeper, Leo Franco, handled the ball outside his area and was sent off in the 77th minute. Valencia could not capitalize and ended the game 2-2.
Malaga lost 0-3 at Benito Villamarin as Betis moved to seventh spot in the table with a European spot looking more likely than ever. Betis are also in contention for Champions’ League spot with only three points behind Malaga and two behind Valencia.
Malaga could not get into the game as Betis scored all their goals in the first half. Any chance of a come back vanished when Ignacio Camacho was sent off in the 62nd minute. In the end, Malaga were lucky to lose by only three goals.
Athletic Bilbao’s shambolic season continued as they lost 1-3 in the Basque derby against Real Sociedad.The game was a historic occasion as it was Marcelo Bielsa’s 100th game incharge of Athletic as also it was the last time the historic Sam Mames would witness the Basque derby. Instead of the game becoming memorable for the fans, it turned out to be the same for their rivals and heart break for the San Mames faithful. Athletic are now languishing in the bottom half and would try hard not to get embroiled in a relegation battle.
According to MARCA, after losing to Real Sociedad, Athletic equalled the figure of 13 defeats which it suffered in the whole of last season. In his first 57 games as the Athletic coach, Bielsa boasted 28 wins, 16 draws and 13 defeats. In the last 43, he has only managed 10 wins, compared to 22 defeats and 11 draws. The future of Bielsa at Athletic is in question further after their latest setback.