The battle for the fourth spot in La Liga will continue to provide a compelling storyline for football fans this weekend.
Every year, you can pencil in Real Madrid and Barcelona as the top two finishers. Right now, Barca are the clear favorites to win the league, leaving Los Blancos to settle in for what could be a second consecutive runner-up finish.
And then you've got Atletico Madrid looking locked-in to third place.
That leaves just one more Champions League place up for grabs. Villarreal occupy fourth for right now, but they're level on points with Athletic Bilbao, while Getafe and Levante are both within three points. There's going to be a lot of movement between now and the end of the season.
The race for fourth might lack the drama of a title battle, but it will still provide excitement nonetheless.
Here's what the table looks like after Friday's action.
|La Liga Table—Matchday 12|
Barcelona 1, Espanyol 0
Barcelona picked up three points on Friday to maintain their stranglehold on the city of Madrid. The Catalans move four points clear of Atletico Madrid and nine points clear of Real Madrid. Both clubs have yet to play this weekend, so those deficits could change by the time next Monday rolls around.
In the event both Atletico and Madrid lose, you'd still consider Barcelona to be the favorites. They won't drop a lot of points the rest of the season, meaning both capital sides will have to remain almost perfect for their final 27 matches.
Now back to the match.
It was a confident, composed performance from Barca. They didn't panic when they failed to score in the first half. Sometimes you might see the bigger sides begin to feel the pressure and kill off their best attacks with foolish shots on goal.
Instead, Barca kept possession and chiseled away at the Espanyol defense.
Alexis Sanchez finally put Barcelona ahead with a goal in the 68th minute. Most of the credit for the goal belongs to Neymar, as he threaded a pass through the legs of two defenders, leaving Alexis with an easy finish.
Barca's back four also did a great job of limiting Espanyol to low-percentage long shots. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano helped to mark Sergio Garcia out of the game.
Villarreal 1, Elche 0
Villarreal moved to three points clear of Athletic Bilbao for fourth after a 1-0 win on the road against Elche.
The deciding goal couldn't have come at a more dramatic moment, as Ikechukwu Uche put his side ahead in the 90th minute.
Up until that moment, Elche had done a great job of dropping deep in the pitch and limiting Villarreal's chances. The home side had done little in terms of the attack, choosing to try and snatch a draw rather than going for the win.
It's not a bad strategy if you can get the point, but choosing to play so defensively means you've got little margin for error. Just one moment of magic, like Uche's goal, can undo everything you've done up to that point.
Looking at the numbers, it's hard to argue that the Yellow Submarine didn't deserve the win. According to WhoScored, they had six shots on target and 16 total shots. For comparison, Elche had zero and five, respectively.
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