Real exhibits championship class

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Madrid stretches lead after Barcelona struggles to earn a point in Seville

11 February 2008

MADRID - Real Madrid took visiting Valladolid apart on Sunday night, winning 7-0 in a performance which put last weekend's hiccup at Almería well behind it. Julio Baptista, Arjen Robben and Royston Drenthe got one apiece, with Raúl and Guti scoring twice in the rout.     

Real's closest rival for the league crown, Barcelona, was held 1-1 at Sevilla's home stadium on Saturday night. A somewhat chaotic game between two teams playing well below their best form provided a result that will satisfy the ambitions of neither club, with Barça's Xavi again saving his team from a complete calamity with a second-half strike after young Sevilla winger Diego Capel had given the home team a well-deserved first-half edge.

Barça's first-half performance was illustrated by the confusion of Leo Messi, the inveterate dribbler unable to find his game in the unfamiliar position of centre forward, where he received too many balls with his back to goal. For its part, Sevilla lacked its usual bite in midfield and the feared right-flank partnership of Dani Alves and Jesús Navas lacked its usual precise threat.

Instead, Sevilla's increasing number of assaults on Víctor Valdés' goal came from the left, where Capel gave defender Oleguer  a torrid 45 minutes. Frédéric Kanouté, looking jaded after his Africa Nations Cup jaunt with Mali, should have done better from one perfect Capel cross, which he volleyed straight at Valdés.

But in the end it was Capel who put Sevilla in front, sliding in at the far post after Alves and Navas had finally managed to combine well down the right. Barcelona was fortunate to reach half time just one goal down, and the situation prompted coach Frank Rijkaard to gamble by removing his only defensive midfielder Edmilson to give Ronaldinho a rare chance to leave the bench.

And this apparently suicidal move was a success of sorts. Inexplicably, Sevilla surrendered possession of the ball and never looked to threaten the visitor's horrendously exposed defence, while Barça slowly began to perk up with Messi restored to his natural wide position. Ronaldinho himself did not pose a specific threat to the home defence, simply adding to the numbers of Barça players in advanced positions and wasting five free kicks in promising positions. In the end, it was Xavi coming forward from his midfield post who saved the day for Barça, applying the right finish to a smart pass by Messi. It was the fourth point the playmaker had saved for his team this month after last week's last-gasp winner against Osasuna.

"We were all over them in the first half, but in the second, it's true that it was them who played," said a rueful Sevilla coach Manolo Jiménez, whose team stays seventh, outside the European qualifying positions.

Also on Saturday night, Villarreal's Guille Franco scored the only goal of the game at Murcia's Nueva Condomina. The win enabled Villarreal to leap into third place ahead of Espanyol, which on Sunday lost 2-1 at home to Recreativo de Huelva, playing its first game under new coach Manolo Zambrano. Atlético de Madrid also benefited from Espanyol's slip, moving fourth with two goals by Diego Forlán in a 2-0 win at Racing Santander.

Other results: Deportivo 1-1 Getafe; Mallorca 0-0 Almería; Athletic 1-0 Levante; Osasuna 1-0 Zaragoza

[Copyright EL PAÍS / J. BADCOCK 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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