THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW
Barcelona and Real Madrid both won in midweek to keep Barca's lead to four points.
The blaugrana had no trouble dispatching Almeria 4-0 at home, with Lionel Messi bending a 20 yarder into the far corner for a goal much like his strike for Argentina against Iran at the World Cup.
Real won 2-0 across town at Rayo Vallecano with two second-half strikes. Cristiano Ronaldo headed in the opener, his 300th goal for the club and James Rodriguez tapped in a second, but both the Colombian and Toni Kroos picked up bookings and will miss a match having accrued five yellows.
Ronaldo also entered the referee's notebook for simulation in comical fashion when he had clearly been upended in the box by Rayo's Antonio Amaya lunging in. The league later overturned the bonkers call.
Daniel Carvajal, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos & Ronaldo however remain on four bookings, one short of a one-match suspension as the title race enters its final lap.
* Deportivo La Coruna manager Victor Fernandez gave an extraordinarily cathartic post-match press conference in the wake of his side's 1-1 draw with Cordoba, announcing he was sacked.
His side had struggled to overcome the bottom club at the Riazor, equalising with only three minutes to go, and with his team sitting one place and two points above the relegation zone by the end of it, Fernandez confessed his time was up.
The club president, he explained, had telephoned him on Monday to tell him it was win or be fired, and he had not won.
An emotional Fernandez told journalists he felt he had given his best effort and left the stage with immense dignity and respect wholly intact.
* On Saturday, Real coasted to a 3-0 win over Eibar at the Bernabeu in the early kick-off, briefly cutting the gap at the top to a point.
Ronaldo got the first after 21 minutes and on a rare start Chicharito took his chance to net the second ten minutes later. Jese bagged the third seven minutes from time in a routine win.
Gareth Bale was out with a hamstring pull and Carlo Ancelotti also rested Karim Benzema and Iker Casillas, allowing Keylor Navas and Lucas Silva a run-out.
Atletico Madrid choked again in their title defence, drawing 2-2 at Malaga to fall seven points behind Real in third. A brace from Antoine Griezmann, a bright light for Los Colchoneros this season, rescued a point after Fernando Torres headed into his own net from a Malaga corner in the first half.
On Saturday night it was left to Barcelona to extend their lead but they could only draw 2-2 away to a spirited Sevilla, who fought back from two goals down.
Messi & Neymar had put their team two up after half an hour but Ever Baneiga pulled one back before the break and a quickfire counter-attack six minutes from time let Kevin Gameiro tap in the equaliser. A draw was a fair conclusion.
Neymar was subbed in the 74th minute but walked to the bench using an Italian-style hand gesture to suggest a rift between him and Luis Enrique. The Brazilian starlet has been the third most substituted player for the blaugrana this season.
In effect, Real gained two points on Barça and with seven games to play the title race is very much alive. As predicted, the Catalans' run-in is choppier than Real's and Luis Enrique's side still have to play Valencia at home and Atletico away.
1. BARCELONA Pld 31, Pts 75, GD +68
2. REAL MADRID Pld 31, Pts 73, GD +65
3. ATLETICO MD. Pld 31, Pts 66, GD +34
4. VALENCIA Pld 30, Pts 62, GD +30
5. SEVILLA Pld 31, Pts 62, GD +21
At the bottom, Almeria won a six-pointer beating relegation rivals Granada 3-0 at home, but Deporitvo, in Victor Sanchez's first game in charge, moved out the drop zone by one goal after drawing 2-2 at Real Sociedad.
Chory Castro's second for Deportivo, a first-time volley from the edge of the area, was the goal of the weekend, a true golazo as they say in Spain.
As it stands, Almeria, Granada and Cordoba are headed for the Liga Adelante next season. Top of the second division are Real Betis, six points clear of three clubs, Las Palmas, Sporting Gijon and Girona. Real Valladolid are fifth and Real Zaragoza sixth. The top two go up automatically and a third joins them via a play-off.
* Barcelona might be sailing proud on top of the first division but their reserves are sinking fast. Barcelona B are bottom of the Liga Adelante and facing relegation to the third tier. The blaugrana's second string have won seven, drawn nine and lost 17 this campaign.
* The PICHICHI race to be the league's top goalscorer stands as such:
Cristiano Ronaldo 38, Leo Messi 34, Antoine Griezmann & Neymar 18, Carlos Bacca 17.
The ZAMORA trophy for the best goalkeeper has Barcelona's Chilean custodian Claudio Bravo in the lead with 19 goals conceded in 31 games, an average of 0.61 goals per game. Valencia's Diego Alves is second on 0.69 and Villareal's Sergio Asenjo third on 0.97.
* Blaugrana defender Jeremy Mathieu, who has popped up to score a couple of vital goals recently, hinted at an edgy relationship with centre-back partner Gerard Pique when he joined FCB.
"At the start it was difficult and I noticed Pique was reticent with me," the Frenchman said. "But after a few games we have created a bit of feeling and I think everything is going better."
* European action resumes this week with the Madrid derby in the Champions League the pick of the ties. Atletico are at home first and have as expected sold out the 50,000 capacity Manzanares for Tuesday. The club said they could easily have sold 20,000 more.
Atletico boss Diego 'Cholo' Simeone said of derbies, literally, "They don't just eat your legs, they eat your head too." Translations on a postcard please...
Sevilla take on Zenit St Petersburg, conquerors of Everton, at home in the Europa League on Thursday.
* In this week's transfer rumours, Inter are trying to prise Pedro from Barcelona although their offer of €10 million differs somewhat from FCB's price tag of €17 million.
The Spanish international appears to be hinting at a possible exit, saying "At the end of the season I will speak and decide my future."
Daniel Alves' agent is demanding a three-year contract for his player to stay at the Camp Nou, a demand the club look unlikely to agree to, accelerating the Brazilian's departure.
Chelsea are eyeing Atletico defender Miranda, who is out of contract at the end of next season and Valencia's Andres Gomes.
The Blues' Spanish midfielder Oriel Romeu (23) on loan at Stuttgart, could be heading back to La Liga this summer.
Juan Mata's goal for Man Utd in the Manchester derby made a louder case for his recall to Vicente del Bosque's Spain squad, while former Valencia boss Rafael Benitez could be heading back to England, this time to Manchester City or West Ham.
Atletico Madrid are keeping tabs on Everton's Romelu Lukaku
Malaga are set to sign Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin on loan in the summer.
Zinedine Zidane confirmed Liverpool's Raheem Sterling is on their radar, as well as the cream of the continent's young players.
"We know who Raheem Sterling is," he said, "and of course we are monitoring him as a player. We monitored Bale or over a year, the same for Isco and also for Varane."
Real are also looking at Athletic Bilbao's 20 year-old French defender Aymeric Laporte and Valencia's 19 year-old left-back Jose Luis Gaya.
Athletic Bilbao meanwhile are hoping to sign Real's Basque defensive midfielder Asier Illaramendi.
Barcelona are hoping to prise Ander Herrera from Manchester United as a long-term replacement for Andres Iniesta or Xavi.
Yet the 25 year-old has a €36 million release clause and is under contract at Old Trafford until 2019.
*This Week's Big Matches; kick-off times GMT
Mon 13th April, LA LIGA
Valencia v Levante 7.30pm
Tue 14th April, UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QF 1st leg
Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid 7.45pm
Weds 15th April, UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QF 1st leg
PSG v Barcelona 7.45pm
Thu 16th April, UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE QF 1st leg
Sevilla v Zenit St. Petersburg 7.05pm
Sat 18th April, LA LIGA
Barcelona v Valencia 3pm
Deportivo La Coruna v Atletic Madrid 5pm
Real Madrid v Malaga 7pm
Sun 19th April, LA LIGA
Granada v Sevilla 4pm
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile