Real chasing Barca after draw

Reigning champions Real Madrid lost ground on league leaders Barcelona after dropping two points in a 1-1 draw with Almeria on Sunday.  Argentine Pablo Piatti equalised with nine minutes left to deny Real victory after captain Raul Gonzalez had put them ahead shortly before half-time with his fifth goal of the season. Real now sit third two points behind Barcelona who crushed Malaga, 4-1, on Saturday to record their seventh successive league win. Valencia are level on 20 points with Real while Villarreal are a point ahead in second after a 4-1 rout of Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

"The draw is okay but we feel that we have dropped two points," Real coach Bernd Schuster said. "We have the quality to finish off games and had some counter attacks that we didn't take full advantage of. I was happy with the attitude of the team but we failed to get the second goal and that proved decisive."

Real's next match is at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday when they host Juventus in the UEFA Champions League and Schuster will hope for better defensive concentration. Real were without Dutch forward Ruud van Nistelrooy, struggling with a knee injury, and Spanish international Ruben de la Red, 23, who was still in shock after collapsing and fainting on the pitch during Real's midweek cup game. Sergio Ramos was back in the starting line-up after making up with Schuster, who dropped him last weekend for critical comments he made in a newspaper interview.

Under Unai Emery, now coach at Valencia, Almeria had beaten Real, 2-0, in the corresponding fixture last season so Real knew what to expect. Raul produced a great header on 38 minutes from a Gonzalo Higuain cross to put the visitors ahead but Piatti levelled after defensive mistakes from Christoph Metzelder and Ramos.

Sevilla were left to rue the sending-off of Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano as the ten-men visitors surrendered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at Valladolid as they crashed to a second successive league defeat. Sevilla looked to be cruising holding a 2-0 lead after 24 minutes following goals from Renato and Jesus Navas but Fabiano, returning after an injury lay-off, was dismissed for two bookable offences just after the hour mark. It proved the turning point in the match as Valladolid used the extra man to pull level and Uruguayan Nestor Cannobio scored his second goal of the game on 63 minutes to seal a comeback win.

Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez was furious about the dismissal of Fabiano, his only fit striker at the moment. "I know refereeing is difficult but the first yellow card was absurd and I don't know what happened with the second caution," Jimenez said. "How can the referee think Luis Fabiano is wasting time in the 23rd minute while we are winning 2-0? No-one wastes time in the 23rd minute."

Fabiano's second caution was for diving in the penalty area on 34 minutes. Sevilla are now five points behind league leaders Barcelona in fifth. The loss capped a miserable week for Jimenez's team, who suffered a 1-0 first leg Spanish Cup defeat to minnows Ponferradina in midweek. After nine games it is a surprise that none of the promoted teams are in the bottom three.

Two league newcomers Numancia and Sporting Gijon faced off as the latter came out on top with a 3-1 victory that lifts them to 10th spot. It was a fourth win on the spin for Gijon and coach Manolo Preciado was understandably upbeat. "Who would have thought this would have happened a month ago!" he said. "Apart from the top teams how many sides are capable of winning four consecutive matches in this division?"

Osasuna certainly aren't and they continue to prop up the 20-strong table after a 1-0 defeat by Espanyol on Sunday. A goal from Raul Tamudo after an hour condemned winless Osasuna to another loss.