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La Liga Week 23 Review: Real Madrid Close the Gap, Villarreal and Atlético Madrid lose again

GIJON SPAIN - FEBRUARY 12:  Gerard Pique of Barcelona reacts during the la Liga match between Sporting Gijon and Barcelona at El Molinon Stadium on February 12 2011 in Gijon Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
GIJON SPAIN - FEBRUARY 12: Gerard Pique of Barcelona reacts during the la Liga match between Sporting Gijon and Barcelona at El Molinon Stadium on February 12 2011 in Gijon Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
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Atlético Madrid 1 - 2 Valencia CF
Atlético have now lost four games in a row to further increase the pressure on Quique Sanchez Flores. However, the game started better than any Rojiblancos fan could have imagined. Only three minutes in, José Antonio Reyes beat Guaita with a low shot. It was a good first half for the host as they were the more dangerous team and they looked poised to hold the lead going into the locker room, but Joaqín Sanchez connected with Jordi Alba's cross to equalize just four minutes before the break.

Atlético had a golden opportunity in the second half, in the 56th minute to be precise, to take the lead but Diego Forlan fired the penalty kick to the outside part of Guaita's left post. It proved to be a costly miss as Joaqín struck again, again just four minutes before the end of the half.

Sporting Gijón 1 - 1 FC Barcelona
Barcelona's 16 game winning run ended but their unbeaten run has been extended to 21 games thanks to some late heroics from David Villa. The game didn't start (or end) the way Barca fans (or experts) expected. The relegation threatened team took the surprising lead, from what would prove to be their only shot on goal, when David Barral produced a fine effort to make the stadium erupt (16'). Both Piqué and Milito won't be proud of their efforts to stop the striker. It was not a good half for the Blaugrana, as they really didn't play anywhere near the way they usually do.

In the second half the visitors sent everybody on the attack, but the well organized Sporting defense and some outstanding saves from Iván Cuellar held them scoreless until the 80th minute. It was when Messi played a pass to the onrushing Villa who saw Cuellar of the line and finished the play off with a brilliant chip. Barca did have a couple of chances to grab the late victory but it was not meant to be.

Racing Santander 3 - 2 Sevilla FC
Racing, led by the newly hired coach Marcelino, won with ten men in a sensational match against the struggling Sevilla. It was a hell of a half for Christian Fernández; in the 12th minute he put Racing in the lead, when he found himself on the receiving end of a corner kick. Four minutes later he committed a foul in the box for a penalty kick, which was comfortably saved by Toño. Only two minutes later the visitors found themselves further down when Ivan Rakitić cleared a free kick into his own net. Farnández's night ended in the 39th minute when he was shown a straight red for an ugly foul. From the resulting free kick Sevilla lowered the score through Federico Fazio.

In the second half Sevilla really looked to make the man advantage count and they limited Racing to only 27% of ball possession. The visitors were awarded another penalty, but this time Luis Fabiano made no mistake and tied it up (83'). The game looked all but over, but then Manuel Arana was sent through on the left wing when the goalkeeper Andrés Palop inexplicable decided to rush out, was left stranded in no mans land and had no chance of getting to the wingers' lob that went straight to the net (90+1').


Real Sociedad 1 - 0 Osasuna
Sociedad continue to threaten for one of the last spots that lead into European competitions. The host controlled the game from the get-go but in the beginning they struggled to create clear cut chances. That changed after the half hour mark, but Sociedad's striker were not able to put them in the lead sooner as they missed several good opportunities. Osasuna then almost took the lead, from one of the their rare chances, but Nekounam's shot was cleared of the line by De la Bella. Ricardo had a good game, finishing it with eight saves, but he was unable to stop Raúl Tamudo from scoring the game winner (73')

Hércules CF 2 - 1 Real Zaragoza
Hérucules' late rally gave them their first win in the last four games, all loses. It didn't look good for the Alicante side, who hadn't scored in the last five games, when they found themselves down just four minutes in. Said Boutahar sent a free kick into the box where Nobrega Braulio glanced a header past Juan Calatayud. Chances were scarce throughout the game and Zaragoza were able to hold onto the lead without any worries. But then, out of nowhere, Francisco Farinos picked up the ball 30 yards out and unleashed an unstoppable long range shot to beat Leo Franco (80'). Farinos was again involved nine minutes later when he played a perfect pass to David Trezeguet, who half-volleyed it into the net.

Málaga CF 2 - 2 Getafe CF
Two goals in the final ten minutes saw Málaga mount a fierce comeback to keep them in the midst of a tight fight for a spot outside of the relegation zone. It was an awful start to the game by Malaga's goalie Francesc Arnau who gifted a goal to Miku (8') and then Adrián Colunga doubled the lead with a nice lob (24'). The home side deserved a better fate than being down by two after the first 45 minutes, as they had several chances to score. Ten minutes before the final whistle Getafe looked like they have the victory in the bag, but then Ivan Marcano handled the ball in the area and Júlio Baptista lowered the score. Four minutes into injury time Málaga got to the equalizer they deserved after a mad goalmouth scramble that saw Rondon score from close range.

Levante UD 1 - 0 UD Almería
In a battle between two relegation candidates it was Levante who manager to earn the hard fought victory. The battle was mainly limited to the midfield with both teams doing their best to disrupt the oppositions build-up. Both teams had to work very hard to get a good scoring opportunity. Almería looked to have taken the lead in the 9th minute when Pablo Piatti scored, but it was disallowed due to the fact that Ulloa handled that ball just prior the shot. The breakthrough came in the second half when Felipe Caicedo managed to beat Diego Alves with a well placed low shot (53'). Munua was forced to make a couple of good stops in the final minutes when Almería pressed for the equalizer.

Deportivo La Coruña 1 - 0 Villarreal CF
For the first time in the season Villarreal lost consecutive game, but this time they actually deserved to. This was not the same team that played so well in the past; they looked lost on the field, uninspired and even after they conceded the goal there was no urgency in their game, maybe it was because Guiseppe Rossi was out due to an illness. On the other side Deportivo played a good game and deserved to add the three points to their total. The host had the best opportunities and in the end they can be disappointed they managed to beat Diego Lopez only once. The goalscorer was Alerto Lopo who, after a free kick, found himself unmarked five feet from the goal and all he needed to do was redirect the ball (60')

RCD Espanyol 0 - 1 Real Madrid
Real survived the early dismissal of Iker Casillas and moved closer to Barcelona on the league table. The goalkeeper was sent off after less than 90 seconds, for a foul outside of the box on José Callejón. Despite being a man down, Madrid were the more dangerous side and Idriss Kament had to make several good saves. But, as many times this year, he was unable to stop a powerful shot from a tight angle, this time from Marcelo (24'). On the other side, making his La Liga debut, Antonio Adán, Madrid's third string goalie, wasn't tested very often, but he looked composed when he was called into action

RCD Mallorca 1 - 0 Athletic Bilbao
Mallorca ended a string of poor performances with a big victory over the Basque giants. Laudrup's men took the early lead through Pierre Webo, who diverted the cross past Gorka Irazoz (11'). Mallorca played good for the rest of the half and should have ended it by being up by more than one. The second half, however, saw Athletic push hard for the equalizer, but had difficulties finding a way through the host's well organized defense. In their last attempt before the final whistle they had their best change to tie it but Duda Aouate made a superb save on Vera's header.

For the first time since week 16 we have a change in the top four. A good stretch by Valencia and a couple of surprising losses by Villarreal were enough for Los Che to make a jump to third on the table.

This week was full of surprising results, with many teams, namely Barcelona, Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, failed to produce results that were expected from them and as a result we see so many changes on the table.

If you read yesterdays news you probably stumbled across an article saying that another coach was fired. Osasuna decided to continue their season without the services of Jose Antonio Camacho and decided to hire Jose Luis Mendilibar, the former coach of Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal.

Week 24 games will be played on February 19, 20 and 21.

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GP W D L +/- Pts
1 same FC Barcelona 23 20 2 1 59 62
2 same Real Madrid 23 18 3 2
34 57
3 up Valencia CF 23 14 5 4
4 down Villarreal CF
23 14 3
5 same Athletic Bilbao 23 12 2
6 same RCD Espanyol 23 12 1
10 -1
7 up Getafe CF
23 9 4
8 down Sevilla FC 23 9 4
9 up Real Sociedad 23 10
-3 31
10 up RCD Mallorca
23 9 4
-5 31
11 down Atlético Madrid 23 9 3
12 up Hércules CF 23 7
-13 25
13 up Racing Santander 23 6
-13 25
14 up Deportivo La Coruña 23 6 7
-14 25
15 up Levante UD 23 7
-10 24
16 down Sporting Gijón
23 5
-8 23
17 down Real Zaragoza
23 5
8 10 -14 23
18 down Osasuna 23 5
-9 22
19 same UD Almería 23 4
11 -16 20
20 same Málaga CF
23 5
14 -19 19

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