BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 08: Cesc Fabregas (R) of FC Barcelona duels for the ball with Hector Herrera of RCD Espanyol during the la Liga match between RCD Espanyol and FC Barcelona at Cornella-El Prat Stadium on January 8, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

La Liga, Week 17: Barcelona Draw Espanyol In Thrilling Catalan Derby

Barcelona were far from their best on Sunday night, allowing Espanyol to grab a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw. Real Madrid are now five points clear on top of La Liga.

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10 Total Updates since January 7, 2012
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Barcelona's Road Woes Continue Just Down The Street From Home

Barcelona have looked like the best team in the world at times this season, but their road form in La Liga suggests that they can't keep pace with Real Madrid.

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Espanyol Vs. Barcelona, 2012 La Liga: Barca Drop Points To Espanyol Again

Espanyol have done it again. No other team in the world is quite so successful at annoying Barcelona, and they've pulled off another big result today at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat, earning a late 1-1 draw after an impressive display in which they actually outshot their cross-city rivals.

Cesc Fabregas put Barca ahead in the 16th minute, but it was actually the hosts who had the best chance of the early game when Joan Verdu steered a header into what looked like an empty net only for Victor Valdes to teleport* over to make a save. Ten minutes later (and after a disallowed Fabregas goal), Espanyol were behind after the former Arsenal man managed to nod past Cristian Alvarez from the edge of the penalty area.

*I'm pretty sure it was some kind of magical thing, anyway.

Barcelona were ahead, but they were never really that dominant, and the home side were clearly unafraid to attack the European Champions whenever they could. The visitors were pretty stodgy throughout, and although they managed to get the ball in the back of the net after the break, it was pulled back for offside and they had very little else going for them. Just as it looked like Barca would settle for a 1-0 win, some very odd things happened.

First, Alvarez managed to injure himself while receiving a pass, slipping over and landing so awkwardly that he had to be stretchered off. Then, seemingly out of nothing, Espanyol pulled off an equaliser, Alvaro stealing in to steer Koulossa Thievy's flick beyond Valdez to make it 1-1. Then Barcelona were denied a stonewall penalty when Raul Rodriguez blocked Pedro's shot on the line. And then the game ended 1-1.

Clearly, the stars weren't in Barca's favour here, but they didn't play well enough to have really deserved a win. It's a big blow, too - they're now five points behind arch rivals Real Madrid, which gives Jose Mourinho and company far too much space to play with. Those were two points that the visitors probably couldn't afford to have dropped.

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Espanyol Vs Barcelona, 2012 La Liga Week 17: Barça Looks To Keep Liga Pace In Heated Catalan Derby

FC Barcelona travels to Cornellà to take on RCD Espanyol in the Catalan derby. Will the blaugrana keep pace with Real Madrid in the liga (yes)?

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Villarreal Vs. Valencia, 2012 La Liga Week 17: Valencia Pull Out Tight 2-2 Draw Despite Strong Villarreal

It's no secret that Villarreal has had a disappointing season; but it's tough to really fathom how disappointing they've been. Coming into tonight's matchup with a surging Valencia side, they were 18th in the Liga, comfortably in the relegation zone, after winning a total of three matches (out of 16). They are a very far cry from Manuel Pellegrini's early-2000's side that set the world on fire; hell, they're a far cry from that middle of the table side they were last season.

But during Sunday's match against Valencia, something seemed to awaken in this side: they possessed the ball brilliantly, created chances on goal throughout the match, and generally outplayed los ché. The yellow submarine was resurfacing, lighting the world on fire once again with that slick, speedy brand of football that made them world-famous. OK, fine, I might be exaggerating; but honestly, only a little.

Sure, their two goals came on defensive errors--the first after only 14 minutes, came courtesy of Marco Rubén, who controlled a ball in the area and was barely marked as he stroked it in, the second four minutes later seemed like the same play, though it started from a free kick and Gonzalo Rodríguez tapped it in--but they played their yellow behinds off all match and it showed. Were it not for a late equalizer from Aduriz in the 87th minute (and a bit of utter brilliance from Miguel at the end of the first half), they would have walked away much-deserved winners.

But that story line is for another day, as Villarreal wasn't able to pull themselves out of the relegation zone this week. The draw leaves them at 17th in the Liga, though Sporting, the 18th-place side, has a game in hand. In many ways, though, Villarreal fans can look on this game with a great deal of optimism: for the first time in a long while, their side looked like a real team, putting together a match worthy of some praise. Sure, there are some major issues they need to address--namely, conceding at the end of both halves--but there is a lot to build on here (which is something I definitely wouldn't have been able to say earlier in the season). They're probably a few years away from being a competitive side again, but performances like these do indicate that they're on the correct--albeit arduous--path.

Goals: 1-0, Marco Rubén (14'); 2-0 Gonzalo (18'); 2-1 Feghouli (41'); Aduriz (87')

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Real Madrid Vs. Granada, 2012 La Liga: Final Score, Los Merengues Cruise To 5-1 Win

For the most part on Saturday night, Real Madrid looked a bit like a team who haven't quite gotten back into their groove following their winter break. Cristiano Ronaldo was not poor by any stretch of the imagination, but did not look like Cristiano. Angel di Maria did not play, and it showed. However, there was one player at his absolute best on the pitch. Mesut Özil looked downright brilliant, setting up three goals for Madrid, as they won comfortably by a final score of 5-1, even though they didn't look their best.

The first goal was a brilliant one, with Özil assisting Benzema with a stunning backheel in the 19th minute. Granada surprised everyone by providing an instant answer, as Mikel Rico nodded in a great header off of a cross by Ikechukwu Uche in the 22nd. They would not be level long, as Sergio Ramos would put his team up for good in the 34th minute with a headed goal off of an Özil corner kick.

Madrid all but ended the game just 70 seconds into the second half, when Gonzalo Higuain scored from 15 yards, finishing off a cross by Marcelo. The best piece of brilliance in the match came in the 50th minute, when Özil found Benzema with a pinpoint long ball, which Benzema controlled and struck into the back of the net. Unfortunately for Benzema and Madrid, the Frenchman injured his ankle during the shot and had to exit the game, with Jose Maria Callejon replacing him.

Ronaldo scored his team's final goal in the 90th minute. The setup was lucky, but the finish was anything but. A miscontrol by substitute Kaka caused the ball to fall into Ronaldo's path at the edge of the area, and he ripped a shot into the back of the net with a rocket of a shot.

For more on Los Merengues, check out Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid.

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La Liga, Week 17 Saturday Scores: Well, That Was Dull

La Liga used to be a league where even the mid-table and lower-table teams played entertaining football and were worth watching. Ahh, those were the days. All three of the early games in La Liga were quite dull and not really worth your time, so it's a very good thing that you were unable to watch them and that you are reading this instead! Racing Santander defeated struggling Real Zaragoza, while the other two games were devoid of scoring. There was one goal across the three games.

Racing Santander 1-0 Real Zaragoza

In the short term, firing Javier Aguirre has not made Zaragoza any better. Racing were the superior team while Zara's defense looked shaky, and they were lucky that Racing's finishing was poor. The game's only goal came just before the stroke of halftime, with Bernardo scoring on a header, nodding in a corner kick.

Levante 0-0 Mallorca

This game was impeccably poor and devoid of things that happened. Levante keeper Gustavo Munua made a couple of very nice saves, with the best coming on Marti in the 69th minute. Levante had a seemingly good goal allowed for offside, but it was close. And that is all of the things that happened.

Real Sociedad 0-0 Osasuna

Once again, Osasuna do very little attacking and gut out a draw. Real Sociedad had plenty of shots and plenty of possession, but couldn't create a winner. It's not the best football to watch, but since Osasuna's been doing this for years, it's impossible to call them lucky at this stage. They went looking for a 0-0 draw and they got it.

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Real Madrid Vs. Granada, 2012 La Liga, Week 17: Los Merengues Expect Big Win

Real Madrid will expect to win big against Granada in their first La Liga match following the winter break

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