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La Liga Week 28 Review: Real Madrid Close the Gap, Zaragoza Embarrass Valencia

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UD Almería 2 - 2 Atlético Madrid
Atlético delivered yet another mediocre performance, losing more ground in the race for Europe. They started the match on the back foot and had David de Gea to thank for three outstanding saves in the opening 30 minutes. But then, from their first real opportunity, Atlético took the lead through Kun Agüero (39').

Four minutes into the second half Albert Crusat scored, with an unstoppable drive, to tie the game. Searching for the tie-breaker Los Rojiblancos took control and the lead when Agüero found the net after an impressive individual effort (61'). Then Almería pressed forward and they were rewarded when Henok Goitom found himself on the receiving end of a cross and headed the ball past de Gea (77'). Both teams had chances to score the game winner, but both goalkeepers produced impressive stops to keep the score level.

Real Madrid 2 - 0 Hércules CF
Karim Benzema continued his recent good form with his third consecutive brace, leading Real Madrid to their 24th successive home win. The Frenchman put Real in the lead after a fast flowing team move left him with a simple finish (24'). By halftime they should have had a more comfortable lead, but Juan Calatayud produced a couple of outstanding saves. Los Blancos dominated the visitors from Alicante, allowing them only a couple of opportunities, all at the beginning of the second half, but Iker Casillas was, as always, prepared. All doubts about the winner of the game were put to rest when Benzema netted with a fine individual effort (56').

Real Zaragoza 4 - 0 Valencia CF
Zaragoza delivered their best performance of the season and it resulted in a miserable night for Valencia. Los Che did control the ball much longer than hosts, but they couldn't break through Zaragoza's defense and they often looked like they still weren't over their midweek defeat to Schalke. The Blanquillos took the lead just four minutes from kickoff when Jirí Jarosik headed Javier Paredes' free kick into the net. They doubled the lead when Ikechukwu Uche sent Ander Herrera through on goal who calmly beat Vicente Guaita (40')

In the second half things went from bad to worse for Valencia. They were left a man short when Marius Stankevicius picked up his second yellow card for bringing down Nicolas Bertolo in the box. Gaby scored from the penalty kick (65') and ten minutes later the hosts were again awarded a penalty shot, this time for a foul by David Albelda. Gaby again sent Guaita the wrong way to score the game's final goal.

Osasuna 3 - 1 Racing Santander
For the first time this season, Osasuna managed to win consecutive games. On the other side Racing has suffered successive defeats for the first time since the coaching change five weeks ago. Osasuna had lost 10 of their last 13 against the Cantabrians, but they looked well on their way to end the bad spell when Kike Sola slid the ball in from close range (20'). Sola also won a penalty for his team; Javad Nekounam easily beat Toño from the spot (24'). After some bad defending, Osasuna added to the lead, Fernando Soriano was the scorer (50'). Two minutes later Markus Rosenberg scored to give Racing a glimmer of hope, but it proved to only be a consolidation goal.

Real Sociedad 0 - 2 Málaga CF
Málaga secured three very important points in their hunt for a place outside of the relegation zone. The win looked unlikely early on with Sociedad dominating in the opening minutes. But, against the flow of the match, the visitors took the lead when Duda sent a cross straight at the goal, where Claudio Bravo failed to make contact and the ball went past him and into the net. (24'). Racing continued to press forward, but again it was Málaga who scored. Rondon sent a powerful header past Bravo after he found himself on the receiving end of Eliseu Pereira's cross (49').

RCD Espanyol 2 - 0 Deportivo La Coruña
After successive defeats Espanyol returned to winning ways. A hard fought first half saw attempts from both teams end up just inches wide of the post. The crucial play of the match proved to be the dismissal of Pablo Álvarez for a second yellow card (41'). After the break the Catalans dominated and they took the lead when Iván Alonso beat Daniel Aranzubia with a brilliant header from David Garcia's cross (62'). Joan Verdú put the game out of reach with an unstoppable angled shot from the right to the far post (80').

Levante UD 1 - 1 RCD Mallorca
Mallorca's unlikely hunt for Europe suffered a huge setback as they were held by Levante. The islanders were unlucky not to take the lead early on, but Pierre Webo's strike struck the post. Instead it was Levante who scored first, Juanlu fired a brilliant 20 yard volley to the bottom corner (37'). Mallorca struck back just before the one hour mark when Ivan Ramis scored from a free kick, with a little help from the wall. In the end Mallorca have to be happy with the point as they allowed two golden opportunities to Levante in the dying minutes, but the hosts were once denied by the post and the second time by the fantastic Dudu Aouate.

Villarreal CF 1 - 1 Sporting Gijón
Villarreal still haven't regained their top form and they now dropped two important points against the nine man Sporting Gijón team. It proved to be a hard fought battle between two teams from the opposite ends of the table. Guiseppe Rossi scored the only goal of the first half after a terrible mistake by Iván Cuéllar who tried to clear the cross but missed and left Rossi with a simple finish (29'). For a long time it appeared it will be enough to secure the win and after Sporting had two players sent off the bet seemed even safer. But two minutes into added time Gonzalo took down Nacho Novo and Sporting were awarded a penalty kick. Diego Castro calmly chipped the ball straight down the middle for the unlikely equalizer.

Sevilla FC 1 - 1 FC Barcelona
One of the seasons more anticipated match-ups proved to be very entertaining and hard fought. Barcelona took the lead when substitute Bojan Krkić went into the net with the ball after a lovely team move (30'). Messi also had a couple of chances in the first part, one of the bar. Sevilla started the second half much better and they were able to tie it through Jesús Navas who was brilliantly set up by Frederic Kanouté (49'). Both teams had very good chances to score the tie-breaking goal but none were better than Andres Iniesta's last minute tries. His first shot, a 25 yarder, bounced of the crossbar and his second attempt was cleared of the line by Gary Medel. Sevilla played a very rough game and as a result several Barcelona players picked up knocks during the game.

Getafe CF 2 - 2 Athletic Bilbao
Manu Del Moral struck three times, but a last minute Urko Vera goal negated the hard work of the Getafe players. The first half was full of broken plays meaning chances were few and far between. The second half brought more organized play from both teams and more importantly goals. Manu scored the first three but only two of them ended up in the right net. Firstly, he was the first one to get to a rebound that  he easily slotted home (58'). Then he nodded David Lopez's free kick into his own net (69'). He put Getafe back in the lead in the 84th minute with a thunderous left footed strike. In the last play of the game Vera equalized with a header from a corner kick. It was the youngsters first professional goal (90+3').

Recap
The race for the La Liga champion opened up a bit this weekend. Five points still represent a healthy lead, but Barcelona can't afford many more slip-ups. However, Barca's schedule of only two "difficult" away games is now much easier compared to Real Madrid's five very difficult away fixtures.

This week was more to the high scoring standards of the Primera División. 28 goals were scored in ten games, four more than on match-day 27. The referees were also busy, sending off 5 players and pointing to four penalty spots. Unlike in the previous weeks, all penalties were successfully converted.

One week left before players take a break from club football and focus on international football. Next fixtures are scheduled over only two days, the 19 and 20 March.

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GP W D L +/- Pts
1 same FC Barcelona 28 24 3
1 65 75
2 same Real Madrid 28 22 4 2
47 70
3 same Valencia CF 28 16 6
6
10
54
4 same Villarreal CF
28 15 6
7
17
51
5 up RCD Espanyol
28 14 1
13
-2
43
6 down Athletic Bilbao 28 13 3
12 4
41
7 same Atlético Madrid 28 11 6
11
4
39
8 same Sevilla FC
28 11 6
11
-1
39
9 same Real Sociedad 28 11
2
15
-8 35
10 same RCD Mallorca 28 10
5
13
-9 35
11 same Getafe CF
28 9 7
12
-5
34
12 up Osasuna
28 8
8
12
-3 32
13 up Levante UD 28 9
5
14
-10 32
14 down Deportivo La Coruña 28 7
10
11
-15 31
15 up Real Zaragoza 28 7
9
12
-11 30
16 down Racing Santander 28 7
9
12
-16 30
17 down Sporting Gijón 28 6
11 11 -9 29
18 up UD Almería
28 5
11
12
-17 26
19 down Hércules CF 28 7
5
16
-18 26
20 same Málaga CF
28 7
5
16 -23 26