Moving moments in Camp Nou, Falcao fires blanks, Madrid’s ‘ugly duckling’ on form

Good Day

Eric AbidalThere were two moving and inspiring moments during Barça’s 5-0 win over Mallorca. The first was the sight of Tito Vilanova back on the Camp Nou touchline, looking displeased as ever by his back four, the second was the triumphant return of Eric Abidal, after receiving a liver transplant a year ago. The physical and mental strength to achieve this goal after such a serious procedure is something truly superhuman. The defender came on to a huge ovation from the home crowd and played 21 minutes to seal the clean sheet for Barcelona. “It was an intense moment for everyone as he’s so loved by the squad,” said Jordi Roura whilst counterpart for the night, Gregorio Manzano, reiterated that it was “great news for the sport and for Barça.”

Cesc Fabregas & Alexis SánchezA very good night for the two players criticised most often by Barça fans this season. The former Arsenal man knocked in a hat-trick playing in a false No.9 role - Cesc’s grr ‘happy but not showing it’ celebration was a delight - while Alexis bagged a brace. It was an all-round good day for Barça, with a clean sheet and proof that the side can (sometimes) live without Leo Messi - at least when facing truly hopeless opponents.

Gonzalo HiguaínEven the Madrid-based scribes under orders to dislike the Argentine (due to him being a Ramón Calderón signing) would have been hard pushed not to applaud his efforts in the 5-1 win against Levante. But then again, perhaps not. As Roberto Palomar wrote in Monday’s Marca, “Higuaín is the ugly duckling of Madrid. Always will be. The president will never be off his feet to celebrate his goals like he did with Benzema.”Aside from that highlight, it was an unbelievably flattering scoreline for Madrid, who looked in danger of being pegged back to 2-2, with seven minutes to go before a flurry of late goals crushed Levante’s spirit.

Real Sociedad Just fantastic. Ruthless la Real sensed an understandably distracted and probably fairly tired Málaga and took full advantage with a 4-2 win to make it just the single defeat from 20.

ValenciaMerciful Zeus, Valencia were lucky to win this one after a troubled week off the field which saw the resignation of club president Manuel Llorente. It’s true the Mestalla club dominated the chances, but there was a touch of controversy in injury time with the scores at 1-1. A throw-in deep in Valencia territory was apparently awarded to Valladolid. Valencia took it instead and ended up scoring the winner from that play, with the referee letting things carry on. If Barça or Madrid were on the end of that decision, you’d hear about it for decades, but as it’s Valladolid....meh.

Rubén CastroHere’s a fun fact for you. Betis striker Rubén Castro has scored as many goals from open play (14) as Falcao, this season. It’s just that the Canary Islander doesn’t have eight penalties to fluff the figures up a bit to create talk of €50m moves to Chelsea. Rubén Castro was magnificent on Friday in the 5-1 win at Granada, as were Betis, a team who are such a beautiful sight to behold when in full flight and in full spanking mode (LLL had better stop there).

Getafe“I’d like it if people spoke about us more,” admitted Getafe boss Luis García after the goalless draw with Atlético Madrid that left the Coliseum club safe in eighth after a run of seven matches unbeaten.

Rayo VallecanoRayo bouncing right back from last week’s defeat in the face of Celta with a 2-0 win that had coach Paco Jémez announcing that “Europe is not a dream, but a reality” with the Madrid side in ninth on a tasty total of 44 points.

Wakaso MubarakThe midfielder took a while to get back into Javier Aguirre’s good books, having taken a little bit too long to get back from international duty with Ghana after the Africa Cup of Nations. But it was pats on the head all round after he scored the game-clinching goal in the dying seconds of Espanyol's 2-0 win at Osasuna. The result gives the Pericos ‘virtual safety’ - as Marca claim - with 39 points after a run of picking up seven points from nine.

DeportivoThey couldng’t could they? Three wins in a row against relegation rivals suggests they can, with Depor now just one point away from safety after a 3-2 victory against Zaragoza. “We are a bit closer,” admitted coach, Fernando Vasquez, although the next four matches are tough ones with a trip to Levante, the visit of Athletic Bilbao, a journey to take on Betis and then Atlético Madrid coming to town.

Bad Day

FalcaoBoth the Atlético Madrid striker and his club appear to be running out of steam, with third position all but sealed for the Vicente Calderón club, despite the lingering threat of la Real 11 points behind. The Rojiblancos have managed just the one victory in five, with just a single goal from the Colombian in that spell. “Strikers have their moments. He’s fine and on the way to scoring the same number of goals as last season,” was the retort from Diego Simeone, when his footballer was questioned.

Miroslav Djukic“I was on the touchline going nuts,” admitted the Valladolid coach on the aforementioned winner for Valencia.

OsasunaThe normally hard-to-penetrate-in-Pamplona Osasuna are showing themselves to have quite the ticklish underbelly of late, with Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Espanyol their third straight home defeat. At the moment, Osasuna don’t seem to have that extra kick in them to get away from the relegation zone, but matches against the likes of Getafe, Granada and Sevilla in the final run-in should give Osasuna the points needed for another Primera adventure.

GranadaCompletely disastrous. That can be the only conclusion for Granada after Friday’s 5-1 home defeat to Betis. Three goals conceded in three minutes in what can be described as an iffy phase for Granada did the damage. However, despite having picked up just two points from the past 21 available, Granada are still out of the drop zone.

Manolo JiménezThe Zaragoza coach was poked into speaking to the press after Sunday's defeat to Deportivo, with the aim of calming everyone down. Zaragoza are still out of the relegation zone, but are without a victory in 2013 in a run of 13 matches. “When you fall, it’s important to pick yourself up,” said Jiménez who said he had no plans to quit. That bounce-back has to take place next Sunday against visiting Barcelona next Sunday. Oh dear.

Celta VigoAll the good work from last week’s draw with Barcelona was undone in a 2-0 defeat in Galicia to Rayo Vallecano. “If we give up then we can’t do anything,” admitted manager, Abel Resino.

MallorcaA third successive defeat for Mallorca sends the side to the bottom of la Primera and probably needing six wins from eight to stay up. LLL warned Dudu Aouate against calling this clash a ‘final’ with the result that it would probably be lost. And that’s exactly what happened. “We gave the game away,” complained the Mallorca keeper. “We are playing for our lives but it didn’t look like it.”

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