The holiday break is now here and there is no change at the top as Espanyol failed to emulate their recent form at home, getting blitzed by Barcelona in the Catalan derby, while Real Madrid defeated Sevilla in the Bernabéu and Villarreal secured a victory over Mallorca to remain third.
The most anticipated match of the weekend saw Barcelona making the short trip to cross town rivals Espanyol. Prior to this game, Espanyol had a perfect record at home winning all 7 games with the best defensive record, scoring 12 goals and conceding only 2. However, that was to change on Saturday evening when they took on their hated rivals.
Only 19 minutes into the match and Espanyol’s net would be breached by Pedro. A quick counter-attack by Barcelona saw a ball out the back find Messi, who then slid a well weighted pass into the path of Pedro who took a touch and slid the ball underneath the onrushing Kameni to make it 1-0. Just on the half-hour mark a wonderful play between Pedro, Villa and Messi saw the latter find Xavi with a brilliant little ball over the top, which the Spaniard took but his effort was blocked by Alves. However, the rebound fell to Xavi once again and he volleyed the ball to the far post for the 2nd goal of the night. Espanyol had some great chances in the first half but couldn’t finish them and the half would end 2-0. The second half would begin the way it ended with Barcelona doing all the pressing and it would pay off in the 60th minute when Chica’s mistake handed possession back to Barcelona and a quick one-two at the edge of the area between Pedro and Messi saw the latter rifle a shot toward Kameni’s net which the Cameroonian keeper got to but unfortunately for him the rebound found Pedro who smashed the ball into the net for goal number 3. Espanyol would get a goal back in the 63rd minute through Osvaldo as he managed to beat the offside trap and broke away at pace leaving Puyol in his wake before hitting the ball under an onrushing Valdés. Espanyol would push on trying to pull another goal back but were unsuccessful and in the 76th minute were hit by yet another counter-attack via a combination of Messi and Villa, with the former finding the latter with a lovely little ball which the front man chased down before slotting it past the onrushing Kameni, to make it 4-1 to the visitors. Villa would get his brace in the 85th minute when Xavi found him with a low through ball that split open the Espanyol defence which el blaze got on to quickly before hitting it underneath Kameni, who got a touch but it wasn’t enough to keep the ball out. Another blistering performance for Barcelona that will see them “win” the “first half” of the season.
Villarreal would record yet another victory at home when they secured a 3-1 win over Mallorca. Cazorla got the home team off to a flyer in the 11th minute but his effort would be cancelled out by de Guzman in the 28th minute. Rossi would score a second for the hosts from the penalty spot in the 35th minute and Nilmar would round the game out with a 3rd in the 51st minute for the hosts.
Athletic Bilbao continued their dominance against Levante when they secured their 4th consecutive win against the Granotes. The goals coming from Gabilondo in the 9th minute with Caicedo cancelling that out in the 20th minute. However, Martínez would secure all three points for the Basque team in the 72nd minute.
Deportivo la Coruña and Sporting Gijón played to a 1-1 draw on Saturday night. Aythami scored only 12 minutes into the match for the hosts and it seemed like the game would end in a 4th consecutive home win for Deportivo. However, Sporting’s last two trips to the Riazor ended with the rojiblancos leaving with points and Castro would ensure that his team left with a point on the night when he scored in the 89th minute to make it 1-1.
Valencia’s trip to Real Sociedad would end in victory for los che, stretching their undefeated run against the Basques to 12 games. However, it would be the hosts that got the game off to a start in the 23rd minute when they were awarded a penalty, after Navarro was adjudged to have jumped unfairly with Zurutuza and was subsequently booked. Xabi Prieto stepped up to take the penalty and hit a cheeky little chip down the middle after César dived to his right. Six minutes later and the home team should have been up by two goals after a cheeky freekick by Xabi Prieto found Zurutuza who then lifted the ball to the far post for Griezmann who volleyed it towards the net but César denied the young Frenchman. In the death of the first half Tino Costa would score an absolute belter from 25 yards to find the top corner of Bravo’s net for the equalizer. Griezmann had two brilliant chances to score a second for the hosts but each time the youngster got thwarted by the Valencia defence. By the 70th minute Valencia was under the cosh and was lucky when Zurutuza’s effort went just wide of the mark after a lovely play by the big man. However, for all their efforts, the home team would end the game with nothing as in the 90th minute, Adúriz would latch on to a poor clearance by Sociedad’s goalkeeper and rifle the ball into the net for the winner handing his team all three points.
Osasuna and Real Zaragoza would play to a 0-0 draw in Pamplona. Meanwhile, Almería, after their splendid performance against Sevilla would fall at home to Getafe in a five goal thriller. Uche would get the home team off to a quick start in the 7th minute, which was then doubled by Ulloa in the 24th minute. However, Manu would pull a goal back 5 minutes later and that is how the first half would end. Whatever Míchel said to his guys at the half they came out and produced. Only 3 minutes into the second half and Miku would equalize for the away team and in the 71st minute Boateng would score the game winner for the away side, leaving the home team and fans wondering how they let a 2 goal lead slip away. Atlético defeated Málaga in La Rosaleda, 3-0, Tiago scored a brace while Domínguez scored the other goal for the visitors.
Real Madrid welcomed Sevilla to the Bernabéu Sunday night in a must win game for the whites if they were to keep pace with leaders Barcelona. It took the whites only 6 minutes to test the Sevilla defence from a freekick about 30 yards out which Ronaldo rifled low towards Palop and it should have been an easy grab for the the keeper but he spilled it. However, he managed to get back up and gather the ball and was fouled by the onrushing Benzema. In the 14th minute another glorious chance presented itself to the home team when Di María slotted a lovely through ball for Benzema to run on to which the Frenchman tried to round the keeper and instead took one touch too many and the sight of goal disappeared, in an effort to redeem the situation, the Frenchman tried to lay it back into the path of an onrushing Ronaldo but the pass was beyond the Portuguese. In the 17th minute, Sevilla had their first chance when Capel found Negredo over the top and the big mad knocked it back to Konko on the edge of the area but he sent the ball way over the bar. In the 20th minute another great chance fell to Benzema when Ronaldo found him from out wide with a low cross and the Frenchman hit it directly at the keeper and to top it all off he was offside. Sevilla had the final chance of the half from a freekick which Romaric rifled towards Casillas’ net that the keeper got down to but parried it down the middle and Pepe had to come sliding in to deny Sevilla going up a goal. The game would see many poor calls by the referee and his linesmen, many of which came against the home side. Just on the hour mark, Mourinho decided to shift things around bringing on Granero and Pedro León for Khedira and Benzema respectively. Pedro made an immediate impact when he delivered a cross that was handled by Navarro but of course the referee decided against it. Four minutes later and another bad call by the referee, sending Carvalho off with a 2nd yellow for what was a fair challenge and more of an accident on Negredo, if anything. Despite the referee trying to thwart Real Madrid’s efforts, because it surely seemed that way, Di María would finish a magnificent effort in the 77th minute. Özil with a mesmerizing run into the box knocked the ball back to Granero on the edge of the box, who took a shot but it was blocked by the Sevilla defence and popped up to Di María on the left, who controlled and dribbled by Palop as the keeper had come out to close the Argentine down but the former was too clever for the keeper and from the most acute angle slotted the ball into the net for the game winner. The home team certainly missed both Xabi Alonso and Marcelo. Alonso’s ability to control the game and his immaculate passing was an obvious omission, while Marcelo’s vibrant presence, attacking runs, passing and partnership with Ronaldo was also another obvious omission that would have been most appreciated by the team, I’m sure. It was all in all a very scrappy game and an absolute disastrous performance by the referee but nothing short of what was expected in the match, in terms of tension and tempers.
So now that the round is over, well not quite as Racing and Hércules play on Monday, and La Liga is officially on the winter break, a few teams will have two weeks to prepare a new approach for the start of the 2nd half of the season if they are to remain in the top flight or qualify for a spot in the European cup competitions. The likes of Sevilla, Deportivo, Almería, Málaga, Gijón and Zaragoza are some of the teams that need to reconsider their current approach over the holidays and come back stronger for the new year.