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Much the same type of match in the second half, a lot of Barcelona possession and Espanyol trying desperately to create something against a superior opponent. Despite their best efforts, they simply couldn't deal with Barca's attack.
It only took two minutes for Barcelona to double their lead in the second half. A nice save from Carlos Kameni on Pedro, setup the corner and Gerard "Waka Waka" Pique headed home Xavi's service. Very poor marking in the box allowed Pique entirely too much space. Don't blame me for the nickname by the way, it's apparently what his teammates have begun calling him since he started dating Shakira.
For the remaining 43 minutes, it was a fairly quiet affair. Barcelona controlled the ball, generated some good chances but never did, nor did they need to, have a real sense or urgency about their play. They had their goals and the result, which was all that really mattered on the day. An extremely easy match for the Catalan side as their will only need a draw against Levante to secure the league title on Wednesday.
One of the more fascinating things about watching a Barcelona match is that their opponents know exactly what they are going to do but in most cases, there's simply nothing they can do about it. Yes, they can hold on for a half, sometimes even longer, but there's such a since of the inevitable that surrounds Barca's attack that you find yourself not wondering if the goal will come, but when.
Espanyol survived for 28 minutes until the inevitable goal happened. Andres Iniesta basically did it all himself, after a botched pass by the Espanyol right back, Iniesta drove inside, cutting past two defenders in to the box and beating Carlos Kameni at the near post. It wasn't an easy play, but Iniesta made it look easy.
Barcelona should have gotten a second in the 37th minute after some of Xavi's typical brilliance set-up David Villa with a wide open net...and he missed. It was a stunning mistake for the Spanish forward who has struggled to finish his chances recently.
All hope is not lost for Espanyol however, they had a couple good breaks on the counter attack and we've seen over the past weeks that Barca will give their opponents chances, you just have to take advantage of them.
No truth to the rumor that Victor Valdés was sitting on the goal checking his smartphone and doing a sudoko puzzle.
With Real Madrid's victory yesterday, Barcelona can't win the league today, but they can take another step towards what feels like their inevitable title. Pep Guardiola has decided to save Carles Puyol for the upcoming Champions League final and will start Andreu Fontàs in the defense.
As for Espanyol, manager Pochettino's side is still struggling with injury issues, with Ivan de la Pena, Sergio Garcia, Raul Baena, David Garcia and Jesus Datolo all out. Despite that, it's a derby and there is always a higher level of motivation when Espanyol meet their local rivals.
RCD Espanyol XI: Idriss Carlos Kameni, Javi Chica, Jordi Amat, Raúl Rodríguez, Ernesto Galán; Javi López, Javi Márquez, Joan Verdú; José Callejón, Iván Alonso, Pablo Osvaldo
Bench: Cristian Alvarez; Luis Garcia, Rui Fonte, David López, Álvaro Vázquez, Albert Canal, Isaías Sánchez
Bench: José Pinto, Bartra, Éric Abidal, Seydou Keita, Thiago, Ibrahim Afellay and Jeffrén Suárez
Sevilla pulled one goal back in the 61st minute. Álvaro Negredo received the ball just outside the box and took advantage of some lackadaisical defending from Real Madrid. Instead of closing quickly on Negredo, the defenders hesitated allowed him to not only get off an excellent shot, but use Iker Casillas' defender against him creating an effective screen.
The comeback was short lived though. Federico Fazio couldn't get to a stray pass across the top of the Sevilla box and Ronaldo jumped right on the ball and easily beat Javi Varas. Ronaldo's second goal of the match tied him with Lionel Messi in the race for the Pichichi Trophy with his 31st goal of the season. At this point, he could have shut it down for the night, but Ronaldo decided to go ahead and complete the hat trick and take the lead in the Pichichi race.
It was a great play by Mesut Özil who sent a pin-point pass right by the Sevilla back line that had pushed up nearly to midfield in a desperate attempt to find late goals that at least could help with their goal differential. As good as Ronaldo was finding the net, Özil was deadly for Madrid setting up three of their five goals.
Oh yeah, Ronaldo got his fourth goal in the 75th minute. Sevilla's Negredo also got his brace with a nice header in the 84th minute, but it was little more than a consolation goal at that point.
Terrible match for Sevilla, they got completely embarrassed in a home match that carried significance for them as they try to qualify for the Europa League. Then again, there might not be many clubs that could have slowed down Los Blancos today.
Tough start to Sevilla who were forced to make an early substitution as Fernando Navarro left the match in the 10th minute with a groin injury. Real Madrid nearly capitalized on Sevilla being down a man as Mesut Özil found Karim Benzema with a great pass but the forward's header sailed wide. Mouhamadou Dabo replaced Navarro.
Real Madrid dominated the half, making it look very easy. Madrid's first goal came in the 21st minute off Mesut Özil corner that found Sergio Ramos in space. Ramos elevated and put a header in off the back of his head. Ten minutes later Cristiano Ronaldo got involved, putting Madrid up 2-0 after a nice header down by Pepe. Sevilla wanted a foul called on Ronaldo who appeared to knock down a defender to create the space, but the referee wasn't listening to their pleas.
Madrid added a third right before the half. Mesut Özil had an open shot, but instead dropped a pass back to Kaká who beat Varas with a hard low shot to the far post. Just a clinic deconstruction of Sevilla by Mourinho's team.
Commentator Phil Schoen said it best after Sevilla goalkeeper Javi Varas made a tough save on a Xabi Alonso shot.
"It's a shooting gallery and Varas is the duck."
Couldn't have said it any better.
Atlético Madrid went on the attack in the second half, as you knew they would, trailing 2-0. They looked much better in possession and the space and time Málaga were getting in the first half, didn't appear to be there anymore. Instead, Málaga was content to absorb pressure and hold on to their lead. Trouble is, all the possession in the world doesn't do any good if you aren't able to create any goal scoring opportunities with it.
Atlético tried to change things up in the 60th minute, replacing the ineffective Raúl García with Diego Forlán and it did seem to help a bit. Forlán brought some needed offensive aggression but the second half clock continued to tick on and Madrid wasn't finding goals.
In the 84th minute Málaga sealed the victory. Enzo Maresca, who had literally just stepped on the pitch, came charging in to the box and buried a rebound past David De Gea. It was exactly the finish Málaga were looking for, hitting back on the counter after doing an excellent job soaking up what pressure Atlético could create.
Málaga goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero proved his toughness after taking an accidental studs-up challenge right in the groin. It looked as awful as it sounds, but Caballero was on his feet quickly and continued the match. He even prevented Atlético from pulling a goal back late with two excellent point blank saves to preserve the clean sheet.
It's a huge three points for Málaga and a bad loss at home for Atlético whose hopes for Europa League qualification where not helped by today's result.
If Real Madrid have any hope of preventing Barcelona from capturing the La Liga title, they'll have to do better than they did last week. A trip to face Sevilla at the Sanchez Pizjuan won't make things any easier as anything less than the full three points for Madrid will open the door for Barcelona to clinch the league tomorrow.
For Sevilla, they'll be looking to take advantage of Atlético Madrid's loss and move back in to a Europa League spot.
Bench: Andrés Palop; Alexis, Renato, Jesús Navas, Arouna Koné, Martín Cáceres, Diego Perotti
Before the match kicked-off, both teams stood for a moment of silence in honor of Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros who passed away today after a prolonged battle with brain cancer.
Very cautious opening 15 minutes from sides, as Málaga don't want to give up anything easy and Atlético was content to be patient and wait for their chance. Atlético had to make an early substitution after defender Luis Perea went down with a hamstring injury. Perea was diagnosed with a torn muscle in his leg and will miss the rest of the season.
The match got heated in the 27th after a Málaga player went down and played continued for nearly two minutes. After the ball finally went out of play, Málaga took exception to Kun Agüero's dive in the box earlier in the sequence and players exchanged from shoves in the midfield. Duda and Costa both received yellow cards for the handbags.
Málaga opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a lovely goal from Rondon who headed home a nice cross from Jesus Gamez. Rondon got the better of Atlético defender Diego Godín who allowed the forward far to much space in the box. The goal was definitely deserved for Málaga who had the better of possession up to that point. Málaga struck again in the 35 minute as Júlio Baptisa buried a diving header off a Sebastián Fernández cross. Once again, Atlético left far too much space for Málaga to exploit inside the box.
Dream half for Málaga who desperately need the three points to avoid relegation. Atlético on the other hand look uninspired and will need to turn things around in the second half.
After an avalanche of goals to end the first half, things started off a bit calmer in the second as both teams realized that playing some defense might be a good plan. David Trezeguet entered the match for Hércules in the 51st minute, replacing goal scorer Sendoa. Trezeguet is Hércules leading goalscorer on the season with 11.
Things got a bit ugly in the 61st minute after Hércules' Nelso Haedo Valdez tangled with Domingo and was shown a quick red card by the referee. Valdez was livid, and despite bumping Domingo in the back, the Racing defender sold a phantom elbow. Valdez's decision to lean right over the fallen player and tell him how he felt about his play probably didn't help his case. It was tough to tell if the referee awarded the card for the contact or for Valdez's animated comments to Domingo. Either way, Hércules was left to finish the match with 10 men.
The red card changed the match, as usually happens, and Hércules struggled to get the kind of chances they were seeing in the first half. It wasn't from a shortage of possession, they still had that, they just couldn't threaten the Racing goal with same furor.
After such a wide open and entertaining first half, the second half was rather quiet and boring. Racing won't be complaining however as the victory gives them three huge points and will likely see them to safety in the table. Hércules hopes of remaining in La Liga next season look all but dashed.
Two teams that have been playing well of late meet at Vicente Calderon with very different priorities.
Atlético hold on to a Europa League spot and a victory could go a long way towards gaining a firm grip on that position. Málaga on the other hand sit 15th in the table, only 2 points out of the relegation zone. Manuel Pellegrini's team will face a tough task in trying to get a result on Atlético's home field.
Atlético Madrid XI: David De Gea; Diego Godín, Luis Perea, Filipe Kasmirski, Tomas Ujfalusi; Raúl García, Mario Suárez, Elias, Jose Antonio Reyes; Diego Da Silva Costa, Sergio Agüero
Bench: Diego Forlan, Antonio Lopez, Francisco Juanfran, Paulo Assuncao, Alvaro Dominguez Soto, Koke, Joel
Málaga XI: Wilfredo Caballero, Martín Demichelis, Kris Stadsgaard, Duda, Jesus Gamez; Nacho Camacho, Apono, Eliseu, Sebastián Fernández; Rondon, Júlio Baptisa
Bench: Francesc Arnau; Enzo Maresca, Patrick Mtiliga, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Fernando, Manuel Torres Caturla, Sandro Silva.
What a tremendously entertaining, high energy, back and forth paced half. Five goals, virtually no defending, definitely what you'd expect from two teams in desperate need of the full three points from today's match.
Racing didn't wait long to get on the board. In the 14th minute, Mexican international Giovani Dos Santos put Racing in front with a tremendous run and header. Papa Kouly Diop curled a near-perfect cross in to the box from the right wing that curled right between two defenders, just as Do Santos split them when a well timed run. Dos Santos headed the ball hard off the ground and it rebounded perfectly in to the top corner of the net.
The early goal only energized Hércules who went right on the attack, threatening the Racing goal multiple times and forcing some excellent saves from goalkeeper Toño. It was essentially an all out siege by Hércules on the Racing goal and if not for the dreaded triumvirate of good goalkeeping, well timed defending and off target shooting, you could have easily seen Hércules with a two or three goal advantage early.
Hércules appaeared to have equalized in the 37 minute, but Abraham Paz was whistled for a foul on Toño in the box and the goal was disallowed. Three minutehes later, they finally broke through. Hercules forward Sendoa was allowed to sit in space in the Racing box and after Tapias redirecting a Tiago Gomes cross, Sendoa buried a beautiful off-balanced shot inside the far post.
Racing answered right back, as Dos Santos completed a first half brace, catching Hércules alseep on the counter. Dos Santos ran on to a nice pass at the top of the box and chipped a shot that caught Hércules keeper Juan Calatayud flat footed and completed by surprise.
Before I could even finish writing about Racing's second goal, Hércules scored again! Tiago Gomes took a left-footed shot that deflected off the ankle of a Racing defender and beat Toño at the far post. Terrible luck really for Racing, but I doubt Hércules will be complaining.
At this point there was simply no defense being played. Racing scored their third goal in the 45th minute, this time a header from Henrique off a Adrián González free kick. How Henrique was allowed to slice through the Hércules defense I'll never know, but credit to him for getting his head on the ball despite some contact with the keeper.
What an out of control and blinding offensive minded half of soccer, tremendously entertaining stuff and I can only imagine what we'll see in the second half.
Hércules needs three points to have any chance to avoid relegation, Racing needs three points to keep them safely out of the drop zone. Hércules manager Miroslav Djukic says his side can survive, despite a 3-1 loss to Malaga last week, thanks to their attacking style. David Trezeguet, who has 11 goals for Hércules this season, should be available for today's match.
As for Racing, manager Marcelino Garcia Toral believes one more win should be enough to keep his club in nLa Liga next season. It should be an interesting match between two teams with a lot to play for.
Hércules XI: Juan Calatayud; Juanra, Abraham Paz Cruz, Paco Peña, David Cortés; Abel Enrique Aguilar Tapias, Tiago Gomes, Olivier Thomert, Kiko Femenía; Nelso Haedo Valdez, Sendoa Aguirre Basterrechea.
Bench: Jesus Pastor, Cristan Pulhac, Piet Velthuizen, Noé Pamarot, Javier Portillo, David Trezeguet, Rufete
Bench: Pedro Alvarez Munitis, Pablo Pinillos, Christian Fernández, Fabio Coltorti, Manuel Arana Rodriguez, Ariel Nahuelpán, Julián Luque
The 2010/11 La Liga season is winding down, only four rounds remain, and after Barcelona finished off Real Madrid on Tuesday in the Champions League, there's likely no team more looking forward to the season coming to a close. Technically, Los Blancos are still mathematically alive for the league title, but short of a collapse of absolutely epic proportions, Barcelona will wrap up the league title either this week or next.
Meanwhile the battle of Europa League spots continues to entertain. Atletico Madrid jumped back in to one of the qualification spots thanks to the combination of their victory over Deportivo La Coruña and Bilbao's loss to Espanyol. At the other end of the table, Real Zaragoza and Real Sociedad got huge results over Madrid and Barcelona respectively, and picked up key points that could keep them safe from relegation this season.
Getafe v Almeria
Saturday, 12pm ET
Almeria is relegated, but Getafe still has a fight on their hands to remain in the top flight of Spanish soccer. They sit in 18th, one point from safety with a traffic jam of teams ahead of them. At this point, Getafe needs to focus on just finding points and not worrying about what is happening above them in the table. For Almeria, it's all about playing the spoiler and trying to drag another club down to the second division with them.
Athletic Bilbao v Levante
Saturday, 12pm ET
Bilbao needs to bounce back from their loss to Espanyol on Monday that dropped them out of a Europa League spot. Levante is safe from relegation and probably to far out to challenge for Europe, but have been playing fantastic soccer since the calender turned over to the new year. Levante has never won at Bilbao, only earning points at the San Mamés twice...ever.
Hercules v Racing Santander
Saturday, 12pm ET
Things are not looking good for Hercules. Their loss last week to Mallorca further buried them in to the relegation zone and the only way out is to start winning, something they've only done twice since Miroslav Dukić took over as manager. Racing are in a bit better shape, but still sit only three points off the drop, a win would go a long way towards securing their spot in the top flight next season.
Atletico Madrid v Malaga
Saturday, 2pm ET
Atletico Madrid are back in a Europa League spot and will want to continue their winning ways to hold on to it. Malaga needs points to keep themselves above water in the relegation fight. A lot to play for at the Vicente Calderón.
Sevilla v Real Madrid
Saturday, 4pm ET
Real Madrid have nothing left to play for other than pride, while Sevilla are two points ahead of Bilbao, trying to hold on to a Europa League spot. Madrid's last trip to Sevilla ended in defeat and they've only won twice in ten matches at the Pizjuán (one of which was their Copa Del Rey victory over Barcelona). Great chance for Sevilla to secure key points in their chase for a European spot.
Mallorca v Villareal
Sunday, 6pm ET
Villareal were eliminated by FC Porto from the Europa League and have been struggling mightily down the stretch. Despite that, they still hold a firm grasp on the Champions League qualification spot and are only three points behind Valencia for the final automatic qualification position. Mallorca's play has been up and down recently but they look safe from relegation at this point.
Barcelona v Espanyol
Sunday, 1pm ET
Espanyol is coming off a huge victory over Athletic Bilbao that put them right in the mix for a Europa League spot. A lot has to break there way for that to happen, but it's possible. Unfortunately, a trip to the Camp Nou is always a tough ask...but this is a derby and anything can happen in a derby! Depending on the result from the Madrid/Sevilla match, Barcelona could be playing for the league title, which would only making Espanyol's task more difficult.
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