Still far ahead but not quite so far

Roberto Soldado scores hat trick for Valencia as leaders Real Madrid drop points after a late equaliser against Malaga.

    Malaga players celebrate scoring a late equaliser against La Liga leaders Real Madrid [AFP]

    Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Malaga after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser from Santi Cazorla's spectacular free kick on Sunday, cutting their lead in the Spanish league to eight points over Barcelona.

    Karim Benzema marked his first start back from injury with a 35th-minute headed goal at the far post from Cristiano Ronaldo's perfect cross.

    Malaga withstood the hosts' numerous second-half chances before Cazorla curled the ball over the defensive wall and into the far corner beyond goalkeeper Iker Casillas in the second minute of added time.

    Malaga are only team apart from Barcelona to take points from Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu stadium this season.

    Athletic Bilbao followed up another emphatic victory over Manchester United with defeat in the Spanish league, the Basque team losing 3-0 to Valencia thanks to a hat trick from Roberto Soldado.

    Soldado exploited a fatigued Athletic team that showed little of the intensity and combination football that carried them to a pair of Europa League wins over the Premier League leaders in the past 10 days.

    Bilbao, who were without striker Fernando Llorente, showed none of the verve or skill from their 5-3 win over United.

    Roberto Soldado jumped on Mikel San Jose's lazy backpass to Gorka Iraizoz in the 41st minute, the Spain striker rounding the goalkeeper to score for the first time in seven games.

    Athletic looked to have found some rhythm after the break, but Valencia defender Jordi Alba ended that momentum by fending off Javi Martinez in a chase for a ball into the Bilbao area and laying it off for Soldado to boot home inside the near post.

    Athletic played with 10 men from the 77th after Andoni Iraiola was shown a second yellow card for taking Alba down.
    San Jose's handball set up Soldado's 85th-minute penalty and 15th goal of the season as Valencia followed their own Europa League win with an away victory that consolidated their third-place standing.

    Levante leave it late 

    Levante are six points behind city rivals Valencia following a dramatic 1-0 victory over Villarreal. Xavi Torres jumped on a loose ball from Ruben Suarez's free kick to score the winner two minutes into injury time.

    Villarreal are only three points above the drop zone after taking only one of a possible 15 points in their past five games. That led to coach Jose Molina being fired after just 11 games in charge since replacing Juan Carlos Garrido.

    "It wasn't a nice game but it was emotional"

    Levante coach Juan Ignacio Martinez

    "It wasn't a nice game but it was emotional,'' Levante coach Juan Ignacio Martinez said.

    Ten-man Mallorca became only the second club after Barcelona to beat Atletico Madrid since Diego Simeone took over to start 2012 following a 2-1 victory earlier on Sunday.

    An own goal by Diego Godin in the 47th minute, followed by Michael Pereira's well-struck shot two minutes later put Mallorca in charge - just before Ivan Ramis was shown a red card for handling inside the area.

    Radamel Falcao missed the ensuing penalty, but the Colombia striker scored his 17th goal to cut the deficit in the 66th minute. However, like Bilbao, Atletico lost ground on Levante.

    "It's a step in the wrong direction but it ends here,'' said Simeone, whose team has given away five goals in their past five games after failing to conceded in any of the first six.

    "We still have 11 rounds to play and our Champions League aspirations remain in tact.''

    SOURCE: Agencies


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