Real Madrid kept their place at the top of La Liga by seeing off a plucky challenge from an Espanyol side managed by former Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores. It wasn’t until just before the break when Alvaro Morata rose highest to head home from an Isco cross, but the goal that really mattered was from Gareth Bale in the closing stages as he made a long awaited return to action after several months on the sidelines. A trademark burst of pace and a neat finish sealed the three points for the home side in the perfect fashion.
That meant that they could stay one point ahead of Barcelona with two games in hand, but it could nearly have been more as they came minutes away from slipping up at home to strugglers Leganes. Fourth from bottom, the Madrid team have conceded goals for fun of late and it took just three minutes for Lionel Messi to open the scoring. It looked as though the Catalans would have the perfect reaction to their thrashing in Paris, but it was Leganes who had all the chances with Nabil El Zhar coming close before Unai Lopez beat Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. Fortunately for Luis Enrique and co., despite the booing and whistling, Lionel Messi converted an 89th minute penalty when Leganes captain Martin Mantovani floored Neymar in the box.
Sevilla too kept the pressure up on the big two at the top by seeing off the challenge of Eibar with Pablo Sarabia scoring from the left flank before Vitolo added a second to punish Eibar as they pushed for an equaliser in injury time. Atletico Madrid also kept up their faint hopes of returning to the top three thanks to Kevin Gameiro as the Frenchman scored a five minute hat-trick in the final ten minutes of the game to seal a 4-1 win over Sporting Gijon.
It was not doom and gloom for all of the teams at the bottom though, as both Valencia and Granada picked up crucial wins. Valencia welcomed a weakened Athletic Bilbao team, further damaged by injuries to Aritz Aduriz and Aymeric Laporte, and saw Nani and Simone Zaza get on the scoresheet with his first strike for the club. Fabian Orellana impressed for Los Che as they moved seven points clear of the drop zone.
Granada have also continued their climb off the bottom and are now only behind Sporting Gijon on goal difference after they surprised many with a 4-1 thrashing of Real Betis on Friday night. Manchester United loanee Andreas Pereira was sent off with Matias Nahuel as the two clashed, but only after getting on the scoresheet with Adrian Ramos adding two and Carcela breaking the deadlock early on. With two consecutive home wins, Granada now seem to be picking up their form.
That’s bad news for the likes of Deportivo, who are now only three points above the relegation zone as they fell to defeat at home to Alaves as Manu Garcia’s penalty made it just one loss in their last nine games for Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
One of the biggest results of the weekend came in the Basque country, as Villarreal, like Barcelona, sought to make a statement after they were thrashed 4-0 by Roma at home in the Europa League on Thursday. Real Sociedad were in form going into the tie and dominated the match from start to finish, but Samu Castillejo made the decisive contribution in the 93rd minute as he rifled home amid a goalmouth scramble to punish Eusebio’s team’s lack of clinic finishing in front of goal, meaning that the Yellow Submarine are now only two points behind La Real in fifth.
Here are the results of this weekend’s fixtures in full:
Granada 4-1 Real Betis
Sporting Gijon 1-4 Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol
Deportivo A Coruna 0-1 Deportivo Alaves
Sevilla 2-0 Eibar
Real Sociedad 0-1 Villarreal
Valencia 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
Celta Vigo 3-0 Osasuna
Barcelona 2-1 Leganes
Malaga vs Las Palmas (to be played on Monday night)
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Thuy Tran Thanh.