La Liga Team of the Week
Another week passes and Real Madrid drop more points—this time 0-0 at Osasuna—as they do their best not to try and salvage any sort of title push.
Ahead of them, both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona recorded wins to increase their lead over Los Blancos. The former beat Zaragoza 2-0 at home and the latter recorded an impressive 3-1 win against Malaga at La Rosaleda.
Elsewhere, Betis continued to prove their European credentials, so too did Rayo, while at the bottom, Espanyol recorded an important win over Celta Vigo.
Amidst all that action there were some brilliant individual performances, as usual.
Apologies to Getafe and Granada, who play tomorrow (blame the LFP), but here is La Liga's team of the week...
GK: Adrian (Real Betis)
As dominant as Real Betis were at times against Levante on Sunday, it is still their keeper who takes the No. 1 spot in this team of the week.
Adrian just edges out Rayo's Ruben Martinez, who you could argue had more to do.
But it was the Betis stopper who produced the best saves this weekend, as his side won 2-0—a win which moves them into the top four.
DEF: Javi Lopez (Espanyol)
Since Javier Aguirre was named Espanyol boss at the end of November, his side has picked up nine points in sis games—the same as Mauricio Pochettino managed in 13.
This weekend's win came against Celta Vigo, and their right-back, Javi Lopez, was impressive at both ends of the pitch.
He was the first to test the keeper, as early as the first minute, and proved a constant thorn as Celta attacked, winning five tackles (via whoscored.com).
DEF: Adil Rami (Valencia)
Valencia kept a clean sheet for the first time in five games as they beat Michel's Sevilla 2-0 on Saturday.
Vital to that was central defender Adil Rami.
The Frenchman won 100 percent of his aerial duals, maintained a pass accuracy rate of 93 percent and even created a goal in Los Che's win (via whoscored.com).
DEF: Ruben Gonzalez Rocha (Osasuna)
As lacklustre as Real Madrid may have appeared without Cristiano Ronaldo against Osasuna this weekend, it is still an impressive feat for the home side to keep a clean sheet.
Credit must go to their defense, with the standout performance coming from Ruben.
The centre-back marshaled the presence of Gonzalo Higuain, and later Karim Benzema, impressively, winning 80 percent of his aerial battles in the process (via whoscored.com).
MID: Patrick Ebert (Real Valladolid)
Real Vallodolid continued their impressive return to top-flight football with a 3-1 win over struggling Mallorca.
On his return from injury, German Patrick Ebert put in a flawless performance to remind the home fans what they had been missing.
He scored two of the three goals and made the third for Oscar Gonzalez as Valladolid ended the weekend inside the top 10.
MID: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
At his effortless best, Sergio Busquets was needed slightly more than usual, as Barcelona got one step closer to reclaiming the La Liga crown.
The 3-1 win at Malaga was supposed to be one of their toughest challenges, yet they overcame it with their normal requiescence.
Busquets completed 95 percent of his 85 passes, made six tackles and had three interceptions as La Blaugrana continued unbeaten in the league (via whoscored.com).
MID: Gabi (Atletico Madrid)
Atletico Madrid continued—perhaps in vain—to persist as Barcelona's closest rivals with a 2-0 win over Real Zaragoza.
Tiago Mendes and a Falcao penalty secured the win in the first half, but it was captain Gabi who stood out over the 90 minutes.
He set up Tiago's opening goal and delivered a display full of leadership, which may yet push Los Rojiblancos closer to Barca than ever in recent history.
MID: Lass Bangoura (Rayo Vallecano)
Rayo Vallecano's impressive season under Paco Jemez continued with an unexpected 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao's San Mames on Friday night.
Star of the show was wide man Lass Bangoura, who scored the opening goal.
He's been in the shadow of Leo Baptistao this season, but 2013 has so far seen him show signs of the player he suggested he'd be a year ago.
FWD: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Another wonderful Lionel Messi performance lit up yet another Sunday evening in La Liga.
La Pulga intercepted Ignacio Camacho's woeful back-pass to give Barcelona a first-half lead over Malaga at La Rosaleda.
In the second half, his wonderful vision set up Cesc Fabregas for Barca's second, before his deft touch allowed Thiago Alcantara to add a third.
FWD: Roberto Soldado (Valencia)
Roberto Soldado took his La Liga tally into double figures, as Valencia beat Sevilla to move into seventh in the table.
He opened the scoring in the 50th minute, with Adil Rami's header presenting him with a chance he could hardly miss.
In the 88th minute, his second goal ensured the three points. Once again, he couldn't miss following a corner from Ever Banega.
FWD: Joel Campbell (Real Betis)
Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell scored his second of the season in Real Betis' 2-0 win over Levante.
The Costa Rican international impressed not just with his goals and attacking quality, but with his work rate and desire off the ball.
A look at his stats from the match reveals not only his four shots and one key pass, he also made two tackles and two interceptions (via whoscored.com).
Although every team of the week is restricted to 11 men, that's not to say that there were not a few more knocking at the door.
Rayo Vallecano's goalkeeper, Ruben Martinez, had an impressive game, while Raphael Varane—despite Madrid's woes—continued to show his credentials.
In midfield, Alejandro Bergantinos was good for Deportivo de la Coruna, as was Real Valladolid's Oscar Gonzalez.
Carlos Vela continued his impressive form since signing permanently for Real Sociedad with a goal, while Real Betis' Ruben Castro was once again on the score sheet in their win.