Espanyol ensured Sporting Gijon would remain in the relegation zone in 2012 with a 2-1 win in Asturias. Mauricio Pochettino’s team got off to a great start as Thievy scored in just the second minute, cutting inside the defence and driving a shot into the far corner after Vladimir Weiss’ through ball. Soon after half-time Sporting were back in the match, David Barral cleverly finding the net at the far post with a defence-splitting flick. However, Sergio Garcia gave Espanyol the win six minutes from time, volleying in from close range after Alvaro headed on a cross.
After failing to overcome Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames, Real Zaragoza made sure they were the team who would be bottom of La Liga at Christmas. Bilbao started the scoring in the sixth minute as Markel Susaeta scored with a well-paced finish inside the area, but 16 minutes later things went horribly wrong for the hosts. Javi Martinez brought down Angel Lafita in the area, receiving a straight red card and a penalty which Leonardo Ponzio scored. Despite having a man less, Bilbao continued to dominate and got the winner in the 87th minute, Gaizka Toquero tapping in after Oscar de Marcos’ good work.
The most remarkable fixture of the weekend saw Real Madrid pick up their second 6-2 victory at Sevilla in consecutive seasons. Cristiano Ronaldo got the opener in the 10th minute, slotting home after Angel Di Maria’s pass, and the second came 27 minutes later, Jose Callejon getting a slight touch on Di Maria’s cross. Ronaldo got his second four minutes later, smashing an amazing effort into the top-corner from some 30 yards, but moments later Pepe was given a second yellow card after his arm collided with Alvaro Negredo’s face.
However, it was Jose Mourinho’s team who got the next goal, 21 minutes after the break, Di Maria getting his deserved goal following Karim Benzema’s through ball. Three minutes later, Jesus Navas pulled one back for the hosts, firing into the bottom corner after Jose Campana’s pass. Soon after, Manu Del Moral was harshly given a red card for a foul, perceived as a kick, on Alvaro Arbleoa, while Ronaldo got his hat-trick with five minutes to go, scoring from the penalty spot. In the closing stages, Hamit Altintop scored the sixth while Negredo pulled one back just afterwards.
Sunday’s action began with Gregorio Manzano piling more pressure on himself as his Atletico Madrid side lost 2-0 at home to a resurgent Real Betis. Atletico managed to register 31 shots, but very few forced Casto into saves and Betis eventually took the lead nine minutes into the second period. Alejandro Pozuelo got the goal, finding the net from six yards after Ruben Castro’s good work down the left. Roque Santa Cruz got Betis’ second in the 90th minute, first hitting the bar with a shot, but putting the rebound into the top right corner.
Granada picked up their third home win in four as fourth-placed Levante lost 2-1 in Andalucia. Guilherme Siqueira gave Fabri Gonzalez’ team the lead from the penalty spot ten minutes before the break after Jose Barkero used his hand to block a free-kick. Ten minutes later, Odion Ighalo went close, hitting the post after good work from Ike Uche, but Abel was on hand to knock in from close range. Levante pulled one back with half an hour to go, Arouna Kone, on-loan from Sevilla, heading in Ruben Suarez’ drilled cross, but they couldn’t muster an equaliser and Granada got the three points.
Another one of this season’s surprise packages picked up a win against this year’s underachieving side as Osasuna beat Villarreal 2-1 at the Reyno de Navarra. The visitors took the lead after 63 minutes as Marco Ruben did well to slot home Cani’s low cross, but their advantage didn’t last long. Ibrahima Balde equalised 11 minutes later as the former Atletico Madrid man brilliantly controlled Roland Lamah’s cross before advancing on Diego Lopez and firing past the helpless goalkeeper. The home side got their second and winner in the 83rd minute as Sergio headed in from a corner. With the three points, Osasuna move above Sevilla and into fifth place while Villarreal sit above the relegation zone on goal difference.
The penultimate match on Sunday saw Racing Santander and Real Sociedad play out a drab 0-0 draw. The visitors had the better of the first 45 as Antoine Griezmann forced Antonio Tono into a few good saves, but they gave themselves a hill to climb not long into the second half as Inigo Martinez was given his second yellow of the match for a foul on Papa Diop. Soon after Griezmann went close again, this time from 12 yards out, but he couldn’t find the net, while Racing could not make the most of their numerical advantage.
The final La Liga match of 2011 ended with Valencia picking up a comfortable three points at home to Malaga. Joaquin caused problems all night for the hosts on his return to the Mestalla, but Roberto Soldado was the man of the night. The Spain international gave Unai Emery’s team the lead in the 36th minute, beating Willy Caballero to Jonas’ pass before coolly sliding home. The former Getafe man completed the scoring with 30 minutes to go, rifling in a marvellously taken volley from seven yards out after excellent wing-play by Jordi Alba. Valencia will begin 2012 four points ahead of fourth-placed Levante and eight points better off than Osasuna in fifth.
Saturday December 17:
Mallorca 1-2 Getafe
Sporting Gijon 1-2 Espanyol
Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Real Zaragoza
Sevilla 2-6 Real Madrid
Sunday December 18:
Atletico Madrid 0-2 Real Betis
Granada 2-1 Levante
Osasuna 2-1 Villarreal
Racing Santander 0-0 Real Sociedad
Valencia 2-1 Malaga