Real Madrid were fortunate to maintain their double digit lead in the race for the La Liga crown in Week 24, after a resilient Rayo Vallecano side made life very difficult for the league front runners.
Los Blancos were able to overcome Rayo 1-0 thanks to a beautiful back heel finish by Cristiano Ronaldo – easily one of the top goals of the campaign thus far. Rayo appeared the more interested side for a large part of the game, with Piti hitting a post and Michu being denied by a last minute tackle by Sergio Ramos in the first half.
Madrid manager Jose Mourinho reportedly admitted his team was lucky to escape with three points. Rayo not only held a larger percentage of the possession – 54 percent to Madrid’s 46 percent – but they also had more than double the corner kicks, 12 to five.
The teams went into the break with the match at a scoreless draw, but Madrid’s greatest goal threat put them ahead in the 54th minute, when Ronaldo collected a loose ball in the box and powerfully propelled a shot with the back of his foot through a crowd of defenders, past Rayo keeper Joel and into the far corner.
Despite a myriad of second half scoring opportunities for Rayo, substitute Jose Maria Callejon should have sealed the game for Madrid nine minutes from time – when Ronaldo’s cross found him alone in front of net – but the Spaniard’s touch on the ball sent it dribbling past the post and out for a goal kick.
Late game heroics by Lionel Messi kept Barcelona from slipping further behind Real in the standings, as the Blaugrana bested Atletico Madrid 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon.
Messi had a goal called back early in the first half after referee Perez Lasa ruled the Argentine controlled the ball with his hand – an offence for which he received a yellow card – but Dani Alves opened the scoring in the 36th minute. Messi eluded three defenders to lay the ball wide to Cesc Fabregas, whose cross found an unmarked Alves in the box for an easy finish.
Radamel Falcao brought Atletico level in the 49th minute by finishing Gabi’s corner, but Los Rojiblancos were destined to be denied the draw by the brilliance of Messi nine minutes from time.
The Ballon d’Or winner sent a stunning free kick curling over keeper Thibaut Courtois and into the far corner of the net for a magnificent goal. The play was not without controversy, however, as Atletico asserted they were still assembling their wall when the free kick was struck.
Despite going ahead early, third place Valencia were undone 2-1 by Sevilla in front of 50,000 supporters at the Mestalla.
Alberto Costa put the hosts in front in the 25th minute with a blistering, low strike from roughly 25 yards away that found the left corner of the goal.
Sevilla responded just nine minutes later, when Jesus Navas’ cross from the right found the head of Gary Medel in the center of the box.
Navas ultimately burned Valencia a second time by providing the decisive goal in the 70th minute. The Spaniard struck an easy finish after Frederic Kanoute’s pass found him alone in the six yard box.
In a clash of European hopefuls, Levante restored some semblance of order in their season by defeating Espanyol 2-1 at the Cornella-El Prat.
Espanyol came into the match behind fourth place Athletic Bilbao only on goal difference, while Levante were a mere point behind Los Leones.
Valdo put Levante ahead in the 24th minute when he received Arouna Kone’s pass in space and fired home past Francisco Casilla.
The frustrated home supporters were forced to wait until the 75th minute for an equalizer, when Kalu Uche headed home Joan Verdu’s floating free kick from the right side.
Ruben Suarez’s free kick from 30 yards restored Levante’s lead with less than two minutes remaining – proving to be the decisive play and providing the Valencia-based side with a gripping victory.
Villarreal – with their heads now above the relegation zone – rescued a point in a suspenseful 2-2 draw against Athletic Bilbao at El Madrigal.
The hosts struck first 10 minutes from the start thanks to a lovely free kick by captain Marcos Senna. The match went into the break with Villarreal in front, but Bilbao responded 17 minutes after the restart when substitute Fernando Llorente delivered a calm header to the back post.
The visitors captured the lead a mere four minutes later, in the 66th, when Markel Susaeta broke free on a counter attack and fired past keeper Diego Lopez.
Villarreal wasted no time in equalizing, as substitute Nilmar scored a rebound goal in the 68th minute after Bilbao keeper Gorka Iraizoz failed to hold a relatively weak strike by Alejandro Martinuccio.
Malaga thrashed lowly Real Zaragoza 5-1, with four goals in a span of 21 minutes. The La Liga bottom dwellers, who have now lost 15 matches thus far this campaign, took a shocking lead on Carlos Aranda’s goal in the 23rd minute, but Sebastian Fernandez headed home an equalizer for Malaga on the stroke of halftime. An own goal by Paulo Da Silva sparked Malaga’s onslaught, prompting subsequent strikes by Martin Demichelis, Isco and Jose Salomon Rondon.
Elsewhere in Spain, Osasuna stayed in the mix for a spot in Europe by defeating Granada 2-1 with a pair of first-half goals.
José Antonio Dorado Ramírez’s own goal cost Real Betis two points, as they tied 1-1 with Getafe.
Real Sociedad leapfrogged Mallorca in the La Liga standings with 1-0 victory provided by Imanol Agirretxe’s 79th minute goal.
A penalty by Christian Stuani in the 74th minute provided Racing Santander with a 1-1 draw at home against Sporting Gijon.