zondag 5 februari 2012

La Liga

Getafe 0-1 Real Madrid
Jose Mourinho's men grind out valuable victory courtesy of first-half Sergio Ramos header
The former Sevilla defender scored what was to be the only goal of the game in the 18th minute as Los Blancos extend their lead at the top of La Liga

Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid

Real Madrid earned a narrow 1-0 win against local rivals Getafe at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez courtesy of Sergio Ramos' solitary strike on Saturday evening, to extend their lead at the top of La Liga to 10 points.

Sergio Ramos scored with a bullet header in the 18th minute in what was to prove the only goal of the game to help his side build up a hefty lead over Barcelona, who entertain Real Sociedad later.

The home side made a bright start to proceedings and could have gained the lead in the third minute. Juan Valera's cross into the box was cushioned into the path of Abdelaziz Barrada by Javier Casquero, with the French-born midfielder blazing the ball over the bar from 10 yards out.

However, Madrid soon began to take control of the encounter and grabbed the lead in the 18th minute. Mesut Ozil's precise corner found the head of an unmarked Sergio Ramos who saw his powerful effort fly into the top corner, leaving Miguel Angel Moya helpless - Ramos' fourth goal of the season and Ozil's 11th Liga assist of the current campaign.

Jose Mourinho's men continued to dominate possession, yet for all of their time on the ball, they struggled to create clear-cut opportunities in the first-half, although Cristiano Ronaldo did sting the palms of the goalkeeper in the 35th minute with a fierce free kick from the edge of the box.

Three minutes later, and it was Getafe's turn to come close to scoring from a set-piece. Casquero's ball found the head of Juan Rodriguez, who saw his effort flicked just wide of goal from Miku as the hosts headed into the break 1-0 down.

Both sides made a slow start to the second period but the visitors should have doubled their lead in the 62nd minute. Ozil slid a delightful through pass to Karim Benzem, however the France international saw his strike well-blocked by Moya to keep his side in the encounter.

Despite not being anywhere near their best, Madrid looked like the only side in the encounter and nearly added an elusive second goal in the 78th minute when Xabi Alonso found substitute Gonzalo Higuain in space. The Argentine cut infield before smashing a powerful effort towards the corner of the goal, yet Moya once more pulled off a terrific stop.

The away team did find the net again in the 89th minute when Ronaldo sweeped the ball home following Jose Callejon's pass, only for the referee to correct rule the strike offside, and the game ended with Madrid holding on to their slender lead, picking up all three points in the process.

Next up for Mourinho's men is a home encounter versus Levante on February 12 while Getafe travel to Rayo Vallecano the same day.

Barcelona 2 - 1 Real Sociedad
The Catalans did enough to beat Real Sociedad but endured a nervy finish to a 2-1 win at a chilly Camp Nou while their rivals reaffirmed their credentials in the capital

On the coldest night in recent memory in the Catalan capital, Barcelona almost froze at Camp Nou on Saturday. With David Villa one of a host of stars sidelined by injury, Lionel Messi misfiring slightly and Xavi rested once again as a precaution ahead of Wednesday's Copa del Rey return against Valencia, Barca's problems were mounting.

All of that, however, was just the tip of the iceberg for Pep Guardiola's charges.

In the end, it wasn't as cold as forecast. Pre-match predictions had claimed that the Arctic conditions would bring sub-zero temperatures in a wave of cold weather spreading across from Siberia. "Bring blankets," Barca president Sandro Rosell had warned fans before the game, amid reports that the temperature would be -4.

But if -4 sounded bad, the reality was actually even more severe: -7. Because Barca began the day seven points adrift of their biggest rivals, Real Madrid, at the league's summit; Jose Mourinho's men had been, as they say in Spain, winter champions, and have since extended their advantage at the top of La Liga. So it may have been snowing all over Catalunya in the build-up to this clash, but the Primera Division title was starting to look white, too.

Barca look low on confidence at the moment

In similarly cool conditions, Madrid travelled to cross-city rivals Getafe on Saturday and turned in one of those performances that owe more to professionalism than prettiness, that are more pragmatic than purist. But they won by a single goal and - more significantly - the result rarely seemed in doubt. Mourinho's men dug deep and did enough; Sergio Ramos' set-piece goal sufficed and Madrid marched home triumphant. On nights like these, perhaps, titles are won.

Straight afterwards, Barca needed to beat Real Sociedad merely to stay within seven points of their rivals. With Xavi rested and Jonathan dos Santos starting in a much-changed midfield, the Catalans created chances in the first half, but had only youngster Cristian Tello's goal to show for themselves at the interval.

Tello had another disallowed in the second half but Messi made it 2-0 and Barca looked calm, as well as cool, in the conditions. But Carlos Vela pulled one back straight away for the Basques and made it a nervous finale as captain Carles Puyol was worryingly withdrawn and replacement Sergio Busquets suffered what looked like a nasty injury as he took a severe gash to the leg.

In the end, the congregated Catalans were happy to hear the whistle - and not only because of the cold. Barca had squandered a two-goal lead away to Real Sociedad in the early rounds of the league and some fans were dreading the worst here. As it transpired, history did not repeat itself, but it was a far-from-convincing display in the end for Guardiola's great side, affected and afflicted by a crisis of confidence which does not bode well for the remainder of the campaign.

Spanish and European champions they may be, but this brilliant Barcelona now face perhaps their greatest test of all. Barca need their confidence to return, and they cannot afford to drop any more points in the run-in, with 11 already conceded away from home this term. The Catalans simply must - as is said here - change the chip; say goodbye to their stuttering self-esteem, or say goodbye to La Liga. And be left out in the cold.


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