Real keep leaders Barca in sight
Real Madrid coach Juande Ramos acknowledged that Barcelona were playing better than his side, but said he did not care after the champions stayed in the title race with a 2-0 home win over Valladolid. Real were unconvincing winners as goals from Raul and Arjen Robben helped the capital side close back to within six points of leaders Barcelona.
"It is easier to win playing well than playing badly," said Ramos. "However, sometimes you can't play well and that was the case today. The priority was getting the points. If we compare ourselves with Barcelona, they are playing better. But there is only one Barcelona.
"I would prefer to be in their shoes because we could drop a point or two. In our position there is no room for error," added Ramos.
Real have won 14 of 16 league matches under Ramos and are unbeaten in 2009. Barcelona had defeated Recreativo Huelva 2-0 on 11 April to open up a nine-point gap, but Real continued their dogged pursuit of a third successive league crown. Valladolid had beaten Real 1-0 earlier in the season, when Bernd Schuster was at the helm, but under Ramos, Real are much-improved.
England international David Beckham, now on loan at AC Milan, was one of the spectators at the Santiago Bernabeu, cheering his old club on from the stands. Beckham, 33, won the 2007 league title with Real before leaving to join Los Angeles Galaxy.
Sergio Ramos was suspended so Miguel Torres filled in at right back, but apart from that Real were at full strength and fresh after no midweek UEFA Champions League distraction. However, Real were flat in the opening 25 minutes and only a great piece of skill from Gonzalo Higuain - a drag back and turn - earned applause from the home fans. Along with French midfielder Lass Diarra, Higuain was Real's standout performer and made the opening goal close to half-time chipping the ball between two defenders and crossing for Raul to tap in.
Robben showed great control to score the second nine minutes from time, although Valladolid were furious as they felt they should have been awarded a penalty seconds before following a foul by Pepe. "It was a penalty," said Valladolid coach Jose Luis Mendilibar. "The people who saw it on the television told us it was a penalty and I have no doubt it was."
Elsewhere, third-placed Sevilla fell to a surprise 1-0 home defeat against Getafe. Jaime Gavilan's 82nd-minute strike won the game for Getafe, who move four points clear of the drop zone. Despite the loss, Sevilla are still in pole position for the UEFA Champions League, holding an eight-point advantage over Valencia.
Valencia climbed above Villarreal into fourth with a 3-2 win at Sporting Gijon. Villarreal lost 2-0 against Malaga on 11 April and now trail Valencia by a point in the Champions League race. David Villa put Valencia 2-1 up from the penalty spot, but did not celebrate the goal out of respect for former club Gijon where he started his distinguished career in 2000 and his parents were watching from the stands.
"I wasn't as nervous as I expected," said Villa. "I am sure they [Villa's parents] were more nervous, because it was the first time that they have seen me at El Molinon not wearing a Sporting shirt."
Sporting equalized, but Juan Mata, recently capped by Spain, struck the winner three minutes from time. Atletico Madrid have their work cut out to qualify for the UEFA Champions League again and are facing rivals Deportivo La Coruna in today's late match. Atletico and Deportivo are both six points behind Valencia making it a must-win game for both sides.
In other matches, new Betis coach Maria Nogues had an immediate impact with his first match in charge ending in a 3-2 win over ten-man Racing Santander. Betis moved four points clear of the relegation zone with the victory.