La Liga Roundup, Gameweek 31: No Change in Spain as Top Three All Win

Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid all registered wins at the weekend as the Primera Liga title race in Spain looks set to go right to the wire. Atletico were victorious in Bilbao, Barca won the Catalan derby and Los Blancos hammered Rayo Vallecano.

Atletico Madrid remain on top of La Liga after coming from a goal behind to inflict only a second home league defeat on Athletic Bilbao at the new San Mames. Iker Muniain put the Basques ahead with just five minutes on the clock, but Diego Costa levelled for Diego Simeone’s side midway through the first half with his 25th goal of the season. Koke headed the winner in the second half as Atleti preserved their one-point lead over Barcelona.

It was far from plain sailing for Los Colchoneros, who survived two penalty appeals in the second half and were again grateful to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for several fine saves. Athletic, who retain fourth place, finished the game with 10 men after Aymeric Laporte was sent off late on for a second bookable offence.

Lionel Messi scored his third penalty in six days to give Barcelona a narrow 1-0 win over Catalan rivals Espanyol at the Cornella-El Prat. It was another less than straightforward afternoon for Tata Martino’s men, but Barca were given a helping hand 14 minutes from time when the Argentine struck his 23rd goal of the season from the spot past Kiko Casilla.

The Espanyol goalkeeper was then sent off for handling another shot from Messi outside his area and defender Javi Lopez, who had given away the penalty, went between the posts for the remaining eight minutes. Barca were unable to test the stand-in keeper, but the win keeps them just a point behind Atleti.

Gareth Bale scored twice as Real Madrid put a bad week behind them with a comprehensive 5-0 derby victory over Rayo Vallecano at a rain-swept Santiago Bernabeu. Carlo Ancelotti’s men had seen successive defeats to Barcelona and Sevilla severely dent their title hopes, but they got their campaign back on track in style against a battling Rayo side.

The minnows restricted Los Blancos to a single goal – Cristiano Ronaldo’s 28th from Bale’s pass after just 15 minutes – but the floodgates opened after the break as Bale netting his first goals in seven games and defender Daniel Carvajal and substitute Alvaro Morata completed the rout. Madrid could and should have scored more, but the win leaves them three points adrift of Atletico and two behind Barca.

A late penalty from Nolito earned Celta Vigo a surprise 1-0 victory over fifth-placed Sevilla which ended the visitors’ six-match winning run in La Liga. Unai Emery’s side were on a high following their midweek success over Real Madrid, but Celta brought them down to earth the successful spot-kick three minutes from time. Celta’s win see them occupying 11th place in the table.

Osasuna ended a run of five straight defeats with a 1-1 home draw against Real Sociedad, but the result suited neither side as La Real saw their hopes of Champions League football next season recede further despite going ahead in the seventh minute when Gonzalo Castro scored. Jagoba Arrasate saw his men punished for failing to add to their advantage when Oriol Riera headed the equaliser for the hosts just before the hour mark. The draw leaves Osasuna in the relegation zone while La Real are six points and two places behind fourth-placed Athletic.

Struggling Getafe came from behind to beat Valencia 3-1 at Mestalla and record their first league win since November, a result that sees the Madrid side climb out of the relegation zone. Eduardo Vargas gave Valencia the perfect start when he headed in the opener after seven minutes, but Getafe responded by scoring twice in three minutes through Angel Lafita and Ciprian Marica, before Pedro Leon made sure of the points with a late finish. Valencia defender Jeremy Mathieu received a late red card after appearing to hit Leon in the face following the Getafe man’s goal celebration.

Elche remain perilously close to the Primera trap door despite picking up a point against Villarreal at El Madrigal. Damian Suarez gave Fran Escriba’s side the lead from the penalty spot on the half-hour mark but Jonathan Pereira levelled on the stroke of half-time. The Yellow Submarine were the better side throughout, but were unable to make their superiority count. The result means Elche sit just two points above the drop zone, while Villarreal remain in seventh, missing out on a chance to go fifth.

Levante ended their four-game winless streak with a 2-0 win at Granada. The Valencia club owed their victory to a fine second-half performance after a goalless first period. David Navarro cracked in a loose ball to put his side in front and Pedro Lopez added a second to propel Levante to 10th and give them an outside chance of securing a Europa League qualifying spot.

Rock-bottom Real Betis sunk deeper into relegation trouble as Malaga came from behind to register their third successive away win and heap more misery on the Sevilla outfit. Lolo Reyes gave Betis the lead on the half-hour, but goals in the last 10 minutes from Juanmi and Sergi Darder sent Malaga up to 12th, five points above the danger zone. Ruben Castro could have stolen a point for Betis, but his last-minute penalty hit the crossbar, summing up Betis’ night and their season.

Real Valladolid boosted their Primera survival hopes with a 1-0 home victory over fellow strugglers Almeria. Angolan striker Manucho grabbed the game’s only goal after just five minutes.  Valladolid could have won more convincingly but for a string of good saves from Almeria goalkeeper Esteban, but the Andalusians offered little as an attacking threat and their hopes of getting a foothold back into the game were scotched by the second-half sending-off of Marco Torsiglieri after the Argentine defender received a second yellow card. The win lifted Juan Ignacio Martinez’s side out of the bottom three, level on points with Almeria who drop into the danger zone.

Programming note: For viewers in the United States, La Liga games are shown exclusively on beIN SPORT, beIN SPORT Espanol and DishWorld. Even if you don’t have a TV subscription to beIN SPORT, you can access those channels via online streaming service DishWorld for $10/month. Read our review of DishWorld. And sign up for DishWorld via their website.

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