Ahead of Barcelona’s crucial Champions league second leg with AC Milan this week, caretaker coach Jordi Roura fielded a side of predominantly fringe players and comfortably saw off resolute strugglers Deportivo La Coruna. Cristian Tello, David Villa and Alexis Sanchez all started and peppered Daniel Aranzubia’s goal regularly but couldn’t beat the impressive custodian until late in the first half, when the Depor goalkeeper couldn’t quite prevent Sanchez’s header from creeping over the line. It was the Chilean’s first league goal of the season and Barca should have had many more before Roura introduced Lionel Messi. Late on in the game, the Argentine striker scored in his 17th consecutive league match, a new world-record according to Barcelona, and his 40th of the season to seal the game and yet another accolade for one of the world’s greatest ever players.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace sealed the win for Real Madrid that hoisted them into second place, ahead of rivals Atlético Madrid – but the result was by no means a foregone conclusion. An hour of stalemate ensued before Ronaldo struck to open the scoring but Iago Aspas equalised two minutes later just as Madrid felt they’d done enough to win the game. Shortly after, Kaká won a penalty and it was Ronaldo who stepped up and scored to make the score 2-1 to Madrid. It should have been more for Madrid but Gonzalo Higuaín missed an incredibly easy chance as his poor form continued. Relegation threatened Celta couldn’t manage a second equaliser as Madrid eased to their fifth win in a row and into second place.
The Vicente Calderon has been an indomitable fortress for Atlético this season where they’ve kept a 100 per cent record and barely conceded any goals whatsoever. Not since October had Thibaut Courtois been beaten, so when Xabi Prieto opened the scoring you could feel a shock was likely, especially as replays suggested that the Sociedad midfielder was in an offside position. Koke, Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa all tried but failed to keep Madrid’s unbeaten home record intact as they slipped into third behind Real Madrid. Phillippe Montanier’s organised Sociedad side climbs up to fifth, level on points with Malaga, who are subject to a European ban next season which could result in the Basque’s qualifying for the Champions League even if they finish in fifth place.
Athletic Bilbao’s Spanish starlet Iker Muniain had fallen out of form woefully this season, failing to live up to the great expectations of last season. The talented 20-year-old had not scored a goal this season and was beginning to start games from the bench after having such little effect when starting. However, he did begin against Valencia and broke his 23-game drought with the winner in the 80th minute, firing home from 12-yards out. Roberto Soldado should have equalised but, like Higuaín, failed to score from close range. The game ended 1-0 to Bilbao, a vital three points, and could begin the revival of a mercurial talent that has the potential to become a true great. Confidence from his goal could help Muniain flourish and relieve some of the pressure on his and Bilbao’s shoulders.
Similar to Muniain, Alejandro Alfaro had failed to find the net all season until last week when he equalised against Granada. This week, he added to his tally for the season with two crucial strikes as Mallorca beat Sevilla to move to within a point of survival. Alfaro notched his first on 16 minutes, reacting quickest to a loose ball in the area to fire Mallorca ahead. Álvaro Negredo equalised on the hour mark, coolly finishing past the Mallorca keeper to make it 1-1, and Sevilla then looked the team most likely to come away with all three points. Alfaro though had other ideas as he reacted quickest to tap in the winner and seal his side’s second win in two games. They have hit some form at an important time and should, like Osasuna and Espanyol, continue to progress and move away from the bottom three.