La Liga, Week 28: Real Madrid Draw Villarreal While Two Get Sent Off

Real Madrid will be without Mesut Özil and Sergio Ramos on the weekend after they were sent off. The gap between Madrid and Barcelona is now just six points.

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Atlético Madrid 2-1 Athletic Bilbao, La Liga 2012: Falcao 2, Bielsa 1

The best laid plans, well, they tend to work out more often than not, right? Is that how that saying goes? Well, either way, Radamel Falcao threw a tiny little monkey wrench into Marcelo Bielsa's plans Wednesday night, securing a much-needed win for the colchoneros against Athletic Bilbao. The flowing-haired striker bested his golden-haired god counterpart, Fernando Llorente, who couldn't find the back of the net against an Atletico Madrid defense that has been rocky at best this season.

Atleti dominated this match from start to finish in the Vicente Calderón, as Bielsa's seemingly-exhausted Bilbao squad just didn't seem to want to play tonight: they had played in three matches in the past week and a half, and seemed completely sapped. (But, come on, Atleti has also played in that many matches, so there).

This match really only got going in the second half, as Atleti seemed to just realize how important a win would be to their European chances this season: they pushed up the pitch with all the force of an upper-table Liga side, and found Falcao within five minutes. His first goal, in the 49th minute, wasn't a pretty one, but it counts--Falcao tapped in a deflection off of keeper Gorka's outstretched hands.

Atleti would wrap things up in the 70th minute, when Juanfran escaped down the wing, and served a perfect ball to Falcao on the second post. The Portuguese striker blasted in an easy header, unimpeded, and Athletic would not have time to react. Los colchoneros would continue to dominate the ball until the last five minutes of the match, when Athletic finally decided to show up, with a goal in the last seconds. Javi Martínez, the young Spanish midfielder, found the back of the net with a blasted shot from his right foot in the area.

Overall, a fun match to half-watch (I was following Valencia's epic loss to Zaragoza as well). It's nice to see Atleti coming on strong after their initially terrible start to the season, though Bielsa's Athletic seem to be disappointing in Spain, while they make the world fall in love with their play in the Europa League.


La Liga 2012, Week 28: Valencia Lose Shocker In Zaragoza, Levante Comes From Behind has been a weird day in la Liga. After Tuesday's eight goal explosion in Barcelona, I figured things would calm down a little today, as some of the bigger name teams faced lesser opposition. I was wrong. Let's see the damage:

Valencia 1-2 Real Zaragoza

This is an unbelievable result. Like, I literally have to re-watch the game to believe this happened. Not only did Valencia take a 1-0 lead at home against the worst side in la Liga, they were also playing against 10 men!! 10 FREAKING MEN! FROM ZARAGOZA! BEAT VALENCIA! It's insane. Like, I literally wouldn't have predicted anything remotely like this happening insane. (I mean, it's not Barcelona or Real Madrid losing to the cellar-dwellers...but it's close).

Pedro Álvarez was sent off in the 21st minute for a pretty testy tackle, and Valencia took the lead early--it looked like smooth sailing in the Mestalla. But just like that, Apoño tied the score in the 33rd minute, then put the visitors ahead for good in the 77th. Incredible. And as the Valencia players walked off the pitch, they were greeted by boos, whistles and the traditional white handkerchiefs of the Spanish angry fans.

Real Sociedad 1-3 Levante

I'm not going to say that this Levante team hasn't completely surprised me. They have. But I will say that there are only a few people that predicted that this side would remain in the European spots this late in the season. And those people might actually have been right, after Koné and company sealed a dramatic come-from-behind victory in Anoeta.

La Real went up 1-0 on a goal from Vela within five minutes, but after that Levante wrestled control away from the locals. First, Barkero tied things up a few minutes later (11th minute), then Koné nabbed the lead at the stroke of halftime. The second frame was only marginally worse than the first, though with fewer goals; Xavi Torres put the finishing touches on the win with a goal in the 89th minute.

Sporting Gijón 2-3 Mallorca

This might have been the game of the night. Mallorca fought tooth and nail to grab the three points in Gijón, scoring first, third, and fifth as Sporting rallied over and over again to tie it. Neither of these sides are particularly great at football...but that doesn't reeeeeally matter when they're scoring this many goals.


FC Barcelona 5-3 Granada, La Liga 2012: Epic Eight-Goal Game Leaves Messi, Barça Five Back

FC Barcelona thought they had this one in the bag: Xavi scored the first goal of the match in the fourth minute, and Lionel Messi followed it up by tying the all-time Barcelona goal-scoring record in the 17th with a blast from the far post off a cross from youngster Isaac Cuenca. They were coasting, up by two within 20 minutes in the Camp Nou, surrounded by thousands of adoring fans -- plus, Messi had just made some Barça-istory (a made-up word combining Barcelona and history, though I admit just saying the whole thing would have been easier).

But then things started to go wrong. First, Granada came out in the second half looking like a team with nothing to lose -- and you always fear teams with nothing to lose. They made their move within 10 minutes, blasting down the wing and whipping in a cross that found the head of the rushing central defender Mainz. Then, only five minutes later it was mayhem in the Nou Camp: Dani Alves tripped up Dani Benítez as the forward tried to break on goal. Penalty. Replays showed that, while it is possible the Granada attacker simulated, there was enough contact to justify the call.

But just like every major moment in recent Barça-istory (see, I knew I'd use this again), Lionel Messi came to the rescue. On a play that is dubious at the very least (replays showed Messi to be a tiny bit offsides, though at that distance precision becomes complicated), Dani Alves threaded a ball past the Granada defenders and onto the foot of the wondrously talented Argentinian. 3-2 in the 68th minute, and that would do it.

Well, except for the rest of the goals. In the 81st minute, a play almost identical to the previous goal led to a finish from another youngster, Tello. In this case, Messi didn't seem offsides, and Iniesta was the one passing, and Granada goalkeeper Julio César managed to stop his initial shot. But a lucky bounce allowed Tello to slot home a side-footed volley inside the six yard box, and put Barça up for good.

Oh, and then Messi scored again, this one on another long pass from Dani Alves. The little Argentinian slipped through the defense and slotted home his third of the night, a brilliant hat-trick for Barcelona's new all-time goal-scoring leader.

I suppose I'm obligated to mention the last moments of the match: in a play literally exactly like the first Granada penalty, Dani Alves took out Dani Benítez in the area. It was an obvious foul, and the referee didn't waste any time in whipping out a red card for Alves (and a yellow to Mascherano for protesting). Siquiera converted this one (as he did the first) by embarrassing Barcelona keeper Víctor Valdés with a ridiculous chip-shot penalty (we call it a Panenka in Spain).

So, Granada and Barcelona combined to score eight goals on the night Lionel Messi claimed the all-time Barcelona goalscoring crown. A fitting tribute to a little man who scores a lot of goals.


Osasuna 0-0 Getafe, La Liga Week 28: Keepers, Defenses Rigid In Tight Draw

Miguel Ángel Moyà saved the day for Getafe on a windy night in the Reyno de Navarra.

The madrileños, heavy underdogs going up against seventh place Osasuna in Pamplona on Tuesday night, played a lock-down defensive match, and were buoyed by the fantastic performance of Moyà, their veteran keeper. Osasuna would batter Getafe's defense all night, but could never find that last bit of skill (or luck) to get by the savvy Moyà, indomitable tonight in goal.

The first half showcased almost nothing, as both teams committed a plethora of errors in possession and squandered the few chances they managed to create. This is often the case in the Reyno, a complicated place to play even for La Liga's heavyweights -- Real Madrid do not have fond memories of Pamplona, while Barcelona lost there earlier this season.

The second half featured more chances for the home side, who seemed more intent on taking something positive from this match than a mediocre Getafe side. But Osasuna couldn't find the net -- or slide into one of Spain's four Champions League spots -- against Moyà, the best player on the pitch tonight. It certainly says something about the nature of a game when the indisputable man of the match is the away side's goalkeeper.

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