There were wins for Spain’s top three as La Liga resumed after the Christmas and New Year break. Barcelona defeated Elche comfortably, Atletico Madrid won at Malaga and Real Madrid overcame Celta Vigo.
Alexis Sanchez took full advantage of the absence of Lionel Messi and Neymar as Barcelona strolled to an easy 4-0 win over Elche. With Messi still recovering from injury and Neymar on the bench, the Chilean hit his first hat-trick for the Catalans to take his season’s La Liga tally to 11. Pedro Rodriguez was also on target for La Blaugrana, who also had the luxury of missing a second-half penalty from Xavi Hernandez.
Atletico Madrid had to wait until the 70th minute to seal victory in a close encounter against Malaga, enduring a frustrating afternoon at La Rosaleda as home coach Bernd Schuster opted for a five-man defence, fuelling criticism he has received for being too negative and cautious. Atleti struggled to create clear–cut chances, but their patience paid off when Koke – rumoured to be a January target for several EPL sides – popped up with the winner.
A below par first-half performance from Real Madrid ensured their game against Celta Vigo at the Santiago Bernabeu remained goalless at half-time. Carlo Ancelotti’s men raised their performance after the break, however, and Karim Benzema broke the deadlock with his ninth goal of the season. Cristiano Ronaldo doubled the lead and then added his second, the 400th goal of his senior career, as Los Blancos sealed a 3-0 win.
Real Sociedad continued their good run by defeating Athletic Bilbao 2-0 in the Basque derby at Anoeta. A goal at the end of either half saw La Real narrow the gap between themselves and their northern rivals to just a single point. Antoine Griezmann put the hosts ahead in the closing stages of the first half with his 12th goal of the season and although Athletic enjoyed more possession, they were unable to carve out clear chances to equalise and were made to pay when Ruben Pardo finished a counterattack in injury time to seal the points.
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Sevilla won convincingly against Getafe with a 3-0 scoreline at the Sanchez Pizjuan to move into seventh place. Goals from Vitolo, Carlos Bacca and Ivan Rakitic, who struck his eighth goal of the season, rewarded the home side’s dominance, while Getafe lost ground in their race for a Europa League place.