Real Madrid put a turbulent week
behind them with a 2-1 victory over city rivals Atletico Madrid but Barcelona
moved on towards a title defense with Samuel Eto'o securing a 3-2 home win over
Deportivo La Coruna.
The win left Frank Rijkaard's side on 61 points from 26 matches, ten ahead of
Real, third behind Valencia, who can close the gap on the leaders to eight
points if they win at bottom side Malaga on Sunday.
Eto'o was once on Real's books and the capital club could have done with his 19
league goals this term given the erratic form of Ronaldo, dropped for the
Italian Antonio Cassano filled in admirably on his first league start since a
January move from Roma, however, heading in after just two minutes before
Brazilian Julio Baptista wrapped up the win after Mateja Kezman had given the
visitors brief hope
Real coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro hinted that top scorer Ronaldo may not even
start at Highbury on Wednesday as Real try to overturn a 1-0 Champions League
deficit against Arsenal.
"It's up to the coach who to leave out. I don't want to go into my reasons. The
important thing is that sporting reasons take precedence over the individual. It
was a technical decision," Lopez Caro said.
"When players are on form they'll be out there on the pitch."
Atletico coach Pepe Murcia bemoaned defensive lapses for the goals.
"Real caught us with two counter punches," he said. "Real were living on their
nerves in the first half."
Real, nine-times European champions, are ten points adrift of Barca after Eto'o
close-range poach saw off stubborn Deportivo La Coruna.
Real's win went some way to making up for the shock midweek resignation of
Florentino Perez as chairman.
Construction magnate Perez went after six years at the helm having acknowledged
that too many cracks had appeared in his 'galactico' empire with the club facing
a third straight season without a trophy.
Deputy Fernando Martin oversaw his first match as Perez's successor and could
not have missed banners reading "thanks Floren, we're with you," and "Florentino,
it's not your fault. Mercenaries get out of this great club."
Martin had called on the squad to shape up and earn the millionaire lifestyle
and Cassano showed the wisdom of his selection by scoring on three minutes after
a Roberto Carlos cross teed him up.
Kezman backheeled the equalizer in the 27th minute but Baptista sealed matters
with a close-range strike after a David Beckham through ball.
Barca show no sign of losing their grip, a first-half lapse aside, after Eto'o
struck on the hour mark at the Nou Camp to settle a see-saw affair.
Deportivo made their hosts fight every inch of the way for the points after
Ronaldinho's second-minute free kick put the Catalan club ahead.
Sergio powered down the right and Juanma met his cross perfectly to head the
Galicians level in the 14th minute and then the visitors went ahead in the 27th
minute through a Jorge Andrade header.
Barca roared back, however, and Swedish veteran Henrik Larsson made it 2-2,
heading in powerfully off a Ronaldinho corner in the 33rd minute.
Another corner from the mercurial Brazilian fed Eto'o and another three points
were in the bag.
Earlier, Argentine playmaker Juan Riquelme fired up Villarreal's bid for a
Champions League spot next season by scoring a brace in a 3-2 home win over
Alaves with Guille Franco netting an 82nd-minute winner.