La Liga Roundup, Gameweek 18: Treble for Alexis as Barca and Atleti Maintain Lead
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.
Villarreal thrashed Rayo Vallecano 5-2 at Las Vallecas, with Ikechuwku Uche hitting a hat-trick and Jeremy Castillo scoring twice. Paco Jemez’s team has easily the worst defensive record in La Liga and, although they had more possession than the visitors, Villarreal were ruthless in front of goal. They were 5-0 up before two goals from Nery Castillo, the second a stoppage time penalty, restored some pride for Rayo. The result keeps the Yellow Submarine in the Europa League positions while Rayo are four points from safety.
Incoming Valencia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi made the best possible start in his new role as Los Che defeated city rivals Levante 2-0 at Mestalla. The Argentine saw his fellow countryman Pablo Piatti drill in the opener just before half-time and hard-working midfielder Sofiane Feghouli sealed the win midway through the second half with a neat finish as Valencia climbed to eighth.
Almeria enjoyed their best win of the season, moving up to 14th place with a resounding 3–0 win over Granada in the Andalusian derby at the Juegos Mediterraneos. Sebastian Dubarbier opened the scoring in the 14th minute and while Verza doubled the lead just before the half hour mark from the penalty spot after Diego Mainz had fouled Fernando Soriano in the area. Riki went closest for the visitors, the former Deportivo La Coruna striker hitting the crossbar after the interval, before Aleix Vidal sealed victory for Almeria 11 minutes from time.
Alvaro Cejudo scored the only goal of the game after 33 minutes as Osasuna edged the first half against Espanyol at El Sadar, but the hosts were also indebted to goalkeeper Andres Fernandez for a string of quality saves as Espanyol put up a fight in the second period. Osasuna’s win moved them up to 15th in the table, while Espanyol remain 10th, having taken just eight points from nine away games this season.
Real Valladolid and Real Betis took a point each from a goalless draw at the Jose Zorilla, which was more exciting than the scoreline suggests, but the result that does little to help either team’s precarious situation at the foot of the Primera Division. Basement side Betis earned Juan Carlos Garrido his first point since taking over as coach last month, but the Andalusians remain six points from safety.