La Liga's game of the weekend saw Sevilla continue their La Liga recovery with a deserved 2-1 win over third-placed Valencia in the Andalusian capital.
The win allowed Sevilla to overtake Mallorca, move into fourth place and back into the Champions League spots after the Islanders shock defeat at Xerez who registered their first win in 13 games despite falling behind to Pierre Webo's first-half strike.
The return of Fredi Kanoute, the form of Alvaro Negredo and the status of Brazil's number nine Luis Fabiano, presented Manolo Jimenez, Sevilla's young and relatively inexperienced manager with a healthy but troublesome dilemma ahead of a vitally important match - made even more so by Sevilla's run of four successive League defeats in December and January which took them from what was looking a nailed-on third placed finish down to sixth.
Incredibly, it also saw calls for the head of Jimenez, who took the Sevilla hot-seat after seven years leading the club's second-team, following the departure of Juande Ramos to Tottenham in October 2007.
Seventeen years service as a player and a third placed finish last season, behind Spanish heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid, still not enough in some eyes to buy him time in the eyes of some of his club's most critical followers.
Even becoming the first side to knock Barcelona out of a competition since Pep Guardiola became Barcelona manager, when they knocked them out of the Copa del Rey on away goals last month, was seen by some as simply a stay of execution.
Jimenez opted to leave Luis Fabiano on the bench giving the one player who has found some form for Sevilla in recent weeks, Alvaro Negredo, the chance to continue his recent goalscoring run.
Negredo joined Sevilla for 15 million euros in the summer just weeks after signing for Real Madrid for 10m euros less after they exercised the buy-back option in his contract they negotiated when they sold him to Almeria in 2007.
His price tag now substantially inflated after a 2008-09 which saw him finish as the second highest Spanish born striker after plundering 19 goals.
After initially taking four months to hit his first goal in front of his home fans at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, he has found a vein of form to help Sevilla climb out of their recent slump and struck both of his sides goals on Sunday night to defeat Valencia, the second of which displayed all the signs of a player revelling in sheer confidence as he chipped the ball over Cesar in the Valencia goal, from outside the area, to make it four goals in three games and three in two on home soil.
Brave selection rewarded for Jimenez, who must now consider whether to re-introduce Fabiano back into his starting line-up for the Copa del Rey semi-final at home to Getafe on Wednesday.
Kanoute, who looked short of sharpness, may this time find himself in reserve.
Just three points separate Sevilla from Valencia and with ambitions in both the Copa del Rey (they are the highest-place league side in the competition) and the Champions League, there remains plenty of reason for optimism for Jimenez that he will remain at his club beyond this season.
BRILLIANT BARCA ROLL ON
On Saturday night Barcelona maintained their five point cushion over Real Madrid with a thoroughly deserved win at Sporting Gijon - Pedro's 15th goal of the season in all competitions the scant reward for a game Pep Guardiola's side thoroughly dominated.
Incredibly, Barca have yet to fall behind this season in their 20 league fixtures, a La Liga record. A staggering statistic that sets them apart from anyone else right now - in the world.
They dominate games in a way that no-one else can, regularly enjoying over 60% of a games possession, averaging 2.5 goals a game whilst boasting the tightest defence in La Liga, having conceded just ten goals.
They've won the last four without Victor Valdes goal being breached and remain unbeaten this season. Saturday also saw them create a club record of 12 successive away League games without defeat.
On this form they would retain their domestic and European titles - but nothing is won this early in the season and any slump in-form would allow Real Madrid, who won in fine form at Deportivo later on Saturday, back into touching distance as they chase league title number 31.
They produced possibly their best performance of the season at the Riazor and without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo. They were also without Pepe, Lassana Diarra, Mahamaddou Diarra, Fernando Gago, Rafael van der Vaart, Esteban Garay and Gonzalo Higuain - a situation that forced Manuel Pellegrini to call up four players from his B side to make up the numbers.
Their second goal of the season was perhaps the best seen in Spain this season, a move that swept down the pitch before Guti audaciously and unselfishly back-heeled to Karim Benzema, when he had the goal at hi s mercy to allow the Frenchman to score his first goal of 2010, before doubling his tally for the year in stoppage time, to seal Madrid's first win in 18 years at the Riazor - the longest run of games that Madrid had ever gone without a win against an opponent on the road.
The best is still to come from Real as their star-studded collection of individuals morph into a team. They'll face plenty more hurdles in their hunt for another La Liga title if Barcelona maintain their record-breaking run, but if Saturday is anything to go by, they'll be waiting in the wings should Barcelona slip below the quite impeccable standard they have set.
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