Spanish La Liga 2011, Week 9: Espanyol Edge Real Betis; Athletic Thump Atletico Madrid 3-0

Hey look! It's a midweek set of La Liga fixtures. And it's featuring Real Madrid vs. Villarreal! Oh, wait, this isn't 2008. Villarreal suck.

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Athletic Bilbao Vs. Atletico Madrid, 2011 La Liga: Second-Half Goal Flurry Sees Athletic 3-0 Victors

What had seemed like a tense, nervy affair between Athletic Bilbao and visiting Atletico Madrid was put completely to rest in eight second-half minutes as the hosts put three goals past Thibaut Courtois in quick succession. Despite being billed as a fairly exciting clash between the genius of Marcelo Bielsa and a dangerous Atleti front line featuring Radamel Falcao, Arda Turan and Diego, before the goals it had been a bit dull, with Athletic dominating but without much to show for it and neither goalkeeper particularly troubled.

That all changed in an instant when a particularly pathetic close-range effort by Fernando Llorente was horribly deflected into the back of the net by defender Filipe Kasmirski for an own goal, dribbling past a scramling Courtois in what almost seemed like slow motion. Llorente's contribution five minutes later didn't have nearly the same comedic value but was rather prettier in football terms - a neat cross by Gaizka Toquero guided expertly into the bottom corner. Torquero would get himself on the scoresheet shortly thereafter after putting his head on the end of a free kick, and Athletic suddenly found themselves in total command. All that was left was to preserve the clean sheet; they did, and won 3-0.

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Espanyol Vs. Real Betis, 2011 La Liga: Another 1-0 Win For Espanyol

Real Betis's slide down the table continued with a 1-0 loss to Espanyol. In what's probably a metaphor for their season to take, the visitors started fairly promisingly, dominating periods of the first half but ultimately faded and allowed Espanyol to ruthlessly put them away after the interval via the head of substitute Walter Pandiani, who rose high to nod home an excellent cross supplied by Didac in the 75th minute, leaving Castro with no chance at all.

It was no more than the hosts deserved for a second-half display that saw them shake off some early cobwebs to put real pressure on Betis. Espanyol have had their fill of 1-0 games recently, but they really ought to have scored more than the once here - Alvaro Vasquez was particularly wasteful in taking six shots (most of them from decent chances) and only managing to get one on target, and in general the whole team's finishing as fairly poor. Fortunately for the home fans, Pandiani's was not.

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Real Madrid Vs. Villarreal Live, 2011 La Liga: Full Time, Los Blancos Make It Look Simple In Big Win

Villarreal weren't expected to take points off of Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, but they could have at least shown up to the match. Los Blancos had it easy in this one. Much like the match against Malaga at the weekend, they crushed their opponents in the first half, then took the second half off. Angel di Maria was the man of the match, setting up two goals and scoring one of his own as Madrid cruised to a 3-0 victory.

The Yellow Submarine were behind after just five minutes, with di Maria providing an absolutely brilliant assist with a through ball to Karim Benzema, who was poorly marked and finished past Diego Lopez from close range. The second goal came six minutes later, with di Maria playing a ball into the feet of Kaka, who smashed in a brilliant bullet of a shot from 20 yards out.

Di Maria scored the third himself, showing off some spectacular speed to blow by the Villarreal defense on the counter-attack, running onto a Benzema through ball before placing the ball in the back of the net. After 30 minutes, the match was already over and Real Madrid set the cruise control at just under the speed limit.

In the context of the Yellow Submarine's other results so far this season, it looks like yet another poor performance and yet another clueless performance from manager Juan Carlos Garrido. Last year, a bad loss to Real Madrid would have been written off as simply an unfortunate and unavoidable occurrence, but he'll be on the verge of losing his job of his team doesn't crush Rayo Vallecano on the weekend. Villarreal sits in the drop zone at the moment, and deservedly so.

We'll have coverage of all of the mid-week La Liga action in our La Liga Week 9 StoryStream. For more on Los Merengues, visit SB Nation's Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and Villarreal blog Villarreal USA. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.

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Real Madrid Vs. Villarreal Live, 2011 La Liga: Lineups

The matches between Real Madrid and Villarreal have been marquee fixtures throughout recent years. Unfortunately, the Yellow Submarine is off to a poor start in La Liga and does not look like they're going to be contending for Champions League places. They still have a number of fantastic talents on the roster, though, and there's no reason to believe that they won't be able to turn it on shortly. However, today they play a very in-form Real Madrid side, and they are very large underdogs. Here are the lineups.

Real Madrid Lineup (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Alonso, Khedira; di Maria, Kaka, Ronaldo; Benzema

Villarreal Lineup (4-4-2): Diego Lopez; Zapata, Gonzalo, Musacchio, Catala; Bruno, Borja, Cani, de Guzman; Rossi, Ruben    

We'll have coverage of all of the mid-week La Liga action in our La Liga Week 9 StoryStream. For more on Los Merengues, visit SB Nation's Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and Villarreal blog Villarreal USA. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.

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Real Madrid Vs. Villarreal, 2011 Spanish La Liga Week 9: 3rd Plays 16th In Marquee Fixture

Second and Fourth last season, Real Madrid and Villarreal go into this game separated by 13 places and 12 points.

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Sevilla Vs. Racing Santander, 2011 La Liga: Last Minute Sevilla Goal Means 2-2 Draw

Days after a heroic draw at the Camp Nou, which saw goalkeeper Javi Varas turn into something of a folk hero, Sevilla had the perfect chance to make another statement with bottom-dwelling Racing Santander coming to town. They didn't take it, despite being the better side throughout.

Manu headed Sevilla into the lead before the first half had ended, although the hosts probably feel that they deserved more after generating several chances prior to Manu's opener. They played well to start the second half as well, which made it a bit of a surprise when Racing, who had done approximately nothing but defend all match, struck twice in quick succession.

Ariel Nahuelpan cancelled out Manu's header with one of his own when he was picked out by Boston Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez's cross, and six minutes later the visitors found themselves with an implausible team following a very tidy finish by Jairo. They held out for 20 minutes, but ultimately couldn't stop a vastly superior Sevilla side draw level in injury time with another headed effort by Manu, and the game would finish 2-2. Neither team will be happy with the points they wasted - Racing hardly deserved a win but still should probably have held their late lead, and Sevilla's inability to kill off the match early led to two dropped points at home.

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Granada Vs. Barcelona, 2011 La Liga: Full Time, Xavi Magnificent, Everyone Else Anything But

In the 33rd minute of their match against Granada, FC Barcelona's new all-time leader in La Liga appearances Xavi Hernandez scored on an absolutely stunning free kick to put his team ahead 1-0. The final score of the match would be 1-0. That would be more or less the only thing of substance that happened in the match.

Sure, Barcelona had 75 percent of the possession, but they didn't manage to do anything with it. Grenada went down to 10 men in the 53rd minute when Jaime Gomez picked up a second yellow card, then down to nine when Daniel Benitez did the same in stoppage time. Despite their advantage in both numbers and talent, Barcelona were unable to take advantage after Xavi's free kick.

However, all wins count the same, and the Blaugranas are now top of the table for the time being.

We'll have coverage of all of the mid-week La Liga action in our La Liga Week 9 StoryStream. For more on the Blaugranas, visit SB Nation's FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranas. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.

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Granada Vs. Barcelona Live, 2011 La Liga: Halftime, Barca Up On Xavi Free Kick

It hasn't been the flashiest of displays from Barcelona in the first half of their match against Granada, but they're ahead 1-0 and they don't look like relinquishing that lead. Without David Villa and Andres Iniesta in the side it's been a bit of a different look, while Lionel Messi looks (understandably) a bit tired and off the pace. Xavi's been his usual brilliant self, though, and on the day he set the record for league appearances in a Blaugrana shirt, the little wizard has put his team ahead.

In the 33rd minute, after winning a free kick just outside of the penalty area, Xavi stepped up and scooped the ball over the wall, bending and dipping into the top left corner of the goal. Barcelona have had plenty of possession, as is customary, but that direct free kick was far and away their best opportunity of the half. Debutant Isaac Cuenta has been okay so far, but he doesn't quite look like he's up to this level at this point in time.

Barcelona have plenty of firepower on the bench, and could opt to spice things up with substitutes while giving Lionel Messi a bit of a rest.

We'll have coverage of all of the mid-week La Liga action in our La Liga Week 9 StoryStream. For more on the Blaugranas, visit SB Nation's FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranas. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.

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Granada Vs. Barcelona Live, 2011 La Liga: Lineups

Apparently, Pep Guardiola is feeling confident about his team's chances against Granada, opting to rest a couple of important players and hand out one debut. Winger/forward Isaac Cuenca, a 20-year-old who has apparently impressed for Barcelona B to start this season, is handed a start as David Villa is rested. Andres Iniesta is also out, replaced by Cesc Fabregas, who has played both in midfield and up top for Barcelona this year. Adriano is also out, with Maxwell getting as start. Here are the lineups.

Granada Lineup (4-4-2): Roberto; Nyom, Iñigo, Mainz, Siqueira; Jaime, Mikel Rico, Fran Rico, Dani Benítez; Abel Gómez, Uche    

FC Barcelona Lineup (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Mascherano, Abidal, Maxwell; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Cuenca

Granada currently sit 18th in La Liga, and while they can't be expecting any points from a match against Barcelona, it sure would be nice given their current position.

We'll have coverage of all of the mid-week La Liga action in our La Liga Week 9 StoryStream. For more on the Blaugranas, visit SB Nation's FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranas. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.

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