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La Liga: Spanish success

First Fernando Llorente's sumptuous volley hit the back of net before Óscar de Marcos secured the win over the mighty Manchester United, crashing the ball home in the second half to send the San Mamés wild.


Athletic Bilbao's Oscar de Marcos

Athletic Bilbao's Oscar de Marcos celebrates his winning goal against Manchester United.

The all-night party in Bilbao capped a successful week for Spanish football which sees five la liga clubs competing for top honours in Europe with Barcelona and Real Madrid – the top two Champions League contenders – and Athletic Bilbao, Valencia and Atlético Madrid all through to the quarter finals in the Europa League.

Despite being reigning World Cup and European Champions, it has been some time since la liga teams have proved so strong in European competition with the last few years dominated by Premier League sides.

The early 2000s saw Spanish football leading the way, with Real Madrid’s seemingly unstoppable Galácticos at their peak winning the Champions League in 2000 and 2002 and Valencia proving a force to be reckoned with, winning the UEFA Cup, the UEFA Supercup and reaching two consecutive Champions League finals, incidentally losing the 2000 final to Madrid.

As Madrid and Valencia’s ciclo came to an end, Barça’s began with the Ronaldinho revolution landing the Catalans their second Champions League title and Messi and co ensuring the club enjoys its most successful period in history, winning the competition a further two times in three years.

However, with Madrid unable to reach the quarter-finals for seven years, the Blaugrana side which are regularly lauded as the greatest team of all time have been flying the flag for Spanish football alone for several years.

Like he did in England, the coming of José Mourinho has seen the bar raised in la liga. His arrival has provided his side with a welcome return to form in Europe and despite Barça’s shaky domestic form this season, both clubs are performing at their highest level in Europe and are the sides no one wants to meet. Drawn on opposite sides, they are both favourites to win and could meet in the final in Munich.

In the Europa League, with three of the four quarter-finals featuring Spanish sides it is very probable that both pieces of European silverware could be won by a team from la liga.

This weekend’s action saw Lionel Messi continuing his goal scoring form for Barcelona as they secured a 2-0 triumph against Sevilla at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán on Saturday evening.

Xavi opened the scoring in the first half followed shortly thereafter by Messi’s 31st league goal of the season, condemning the hosts to a second consecutive defeat.

The win saw Barça close the gap on leaders Madrid who were due to play on Sunday. So far, so normal. But then we saw something we had not seen since December. A last-gasp Santi Cazorla goal saw Los Merengues drop two points as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Málaga at the Santiago Bernabéu

Karim Benzema got the opener 35 minutes into the match with a close-range header from Cristiano Ronaldo’s cross.

But the hosts were stunned when in stoppage time Cazorla – bought in the summer for €21m – floated an exquisite free-kick into the top right corner leaving keeper Iker Casillas no chance.

The Capital club now have an eight point lead at the top and despite Barça coach Pep Guardiola’s insistence that the leaders cannot be caught, the latest slip has brought the Catalan press to life declaring the inevitable Hay Liga!

Meanwhile as Bilbao suffered from a European hangover, Roberto Soldado had no such problems notching a hat trick against the Basque side in a 3-0 win at the San Mamés.

The recently returned Spain international took advantage of a poor back pass to round keeper Gorka Iraizoz and put Los Che in front just before the break, before adding to his tally with a second strike 12 minutes after the break – another excellent finish.

Andoni Iraola was then sent off when he brought down Jordi Alba, and Bilbao’s misery was complete with five minutes to go when the referee awarded a harsh penalty for a handball by Mikel San José and Soldado confidently stroked home from the spot.

The win saw Valencia secure their grip on third place as they moved move six points clear while Bilbao remain four points off the UEFA Champions League spots in seventh place.

Another side suffering from a hangover are Atlético Madrid who were beaten by a ten-man Real Mallorca side 2-1.

A Diego Godin own goal and Michaël Pereira strike had them trailing the islanders. Atléti were given a sliver of hope when Iván Ramis was given his marching orders but a missed penalty from Falcao proved costly and his later goal was not enough to rescue Diego Simeone’s side.


RCD Espanyol 3 – 1 Racing Santander

Real Madrid 1 – 1 Málaga CF

Athletic Bilbao 0 – 3 Valencia CF

RCD Mallorca 2 – 1 Atlético Madrid

Levante UD 1 – 0 Villarreal CF

Rayo Vallecano 3 – 0 Real Betis

Sevilla FC 0 – 2 FC Barcelona

Granada CF 2 – 1 Sporting Gijón

Getafe CF 1 – 0 Real Sociedad

Real Zaragoza 1 – 1 Osasuna

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