La Liga wrap: Messi fires Barcelona to victory ahead of Vilanova return
La Liga wrap: Tom Wellman reflects on this weekend's Spanish action after Barcelona beat Rayo Vallecano
Camp Nou’s buzz returns as Vilanova comeback nears
The crushing win over AC Milan in midweek appears to have quelled the uneasy emotions in and around the famous Camp Nou stadium as Barcelona await the return of influential manager Tito Vilanova. He is expected to take charge of Barça next week after undergoing cancer treatment in New York. In his absence, assistant manager Jordi Roura led Barcelona to a 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano thanks to two Lionel Messi goals. The Argentine forward has now scored in 18th successive games, and due to injuries to other senior players, Messi donned the armband. David Villa scored Barcelona’s third before Raul Tamudo pulled a consolation goal back for Rayo. Barça appear to be exiting their slump and look like their world class selves once more.
Madrid’s superb five-minute spell sees off resurgent Mallorca
Real Mallorca have been on the comeback trail too in recent weeks, having won their previous two games thanks largely to striker Alejandro Alfaro’s goals. The Islanders were not expected to continue their run away to Real Madrid but did lead the European giants twice at the Bernabeu. Emilio Nsue headed Mallorca into an early lead but Gonzalo Higuaín restored parity soon after. Alfaro stunned the home supporters by scoring his fourth strike in three games as Mallorca looked unfazed by the gulf in quality. However, it didn’t last as Madrid unleashed a devastating five-minute spell, plundering three goals to take the game from the relegation threatened visitors. Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Higuaín scored with Karim Benzema grabbing a fifth in the final minute to see off Gregorio Manzano’s plucky charges.
Titanic Galician derby revives Deportivo survival hopes
A fierce Galician derby pitted La Liga’s two bottom sides together which made for a massive encounter on Spain’s west coast. Both Deportivo and Celta Vigo are in danger of returning to the Segunda after just one season of top-flight football. And it was Depor who took a big step towards La Liga safety by winning 3-1. Riki gave Deportivo the lead after nine minutes before Silvio spectacularly chipped in from 30 yards to double the lead. Diogo Salomão made it 3-0 to the hosts before Arsenal loanee Park Chu-Young nicked a consolation. Deportivo remain rooted to the foot of the table but, probably more importantly for some of their fans, took rivals Celta one step closer to joining them next season.
In-form Sociedad leap into Champions League spots after Valladolid victory
Unbeaten in nine matches, Real Sociedad’s recent surge has lifted them into the top four of the league and a 4-1 victory over Valladolid highlighted their Champions League credentials. Antoine Griezmann starred with two goals as Xabi Prieto and Imano Agirretxe scored the other strike before Javi Guerra’s pulled one back for Valladolid. Griezmann’s second goal was world class, controlling a long ball over his shoulder before volleying home to score Sociedad’s third – a goal Dennis Bergkamp would have been proud of. It is such class that should make Sociedad competitive in Europe next season whatever competition they end up qualifying for.
Espanyol cause a stir at jubilant Málaga
Following Champions League progression in midweek, Málaga suffered a shock defeat by Espanyol at La Rosaleda Stadium. The magical win over Porto will live long in the memory of Málaga fans but their league form has dipped as a result of their Champions League exploits. Having not won in four, Málaga have dropped to sixth and couldn’t correct their slide against Espanyol. Diego Colotto and Sergio Garcia scored second half goals to seal a 2-0 win for the Catalan side against all the odds. Qualifying for Europe next season is immaterial as Málaga face a one-year ban from Uefa but Manuel Pellegrini’s side shouldn’t neglect their league form as it can build vital momentum for famous European nights.