LA LIGA

Osasuna freezes Real’s account

Reigning champion draws another blank as Betis, Rayo and Valencia win

Xabi Alonso (center) is caught in a melee during Real Madrid's match against Osasuna.
Xabi Alonso (center) is caught in a melee during Real Madrid's match against Osasuna. Mikel Saiz / DIARIO AS

Real Madrid's stuttering domestic season continued on Saturday night in chilly Pamplona, where a well-drilled Osasuna side held the reigning champion to a goalless tie at the El Sadar stadium.

The result was not what Real needed as it attempts to close the gap on runaway leader Barcelona in this year's title race, a marathon that has now turned into a Sunday stroll for the unbeaten Catalan club. Even so, it was not altogether a surprising outcome; Osasuna's stadium has proved a tough nut for Real to crack in the past. Without the services of Cristiano Ronaldo — suspended for the match for accumulation of bookings — the visitor lacked its sharpest cutting edge. Sergio Ramos, Real's defensive general, was also serving the first of a five-match suspension for insulting the referee in the King's Cup tie against Celta last week.

Gonzalo Higuaín, returning from injury, toiled gamely in the striker's role; Ángel di María attempted to unsettle the home side; and José Callejón further embellished his case for a more prominent role on the team. But José Luis Mendilibar's outfit held firm for a valuable point that lifted it off the bottom of the table overnight.

Real's cause was not helped when Kaká, making a rare appearance for the side, was shown the red card for two bookable offenses after barely quarter of an hour on the field. With half the season remaining Real has essentially given up on the league and is aiming for cup salvation to rescue a chastening domestic season.

"The league has to help us for the cup and the Champions League," defender Raúl Albiol said after the match. "We need to build a rhythm and get on a run of victories that will let us perform well in those competitions. We have to find a positive dynamic, although it's clear that things are not going well in the league."

"I am not talking about players being out injured even though some were missing for one or two months," added Mourinho. "Neither will I make excuses because of those who were suspended. It's not easy to create chances here because of the way the opponent plays but we had opportunities to score; not many, but we had them."

Betis moved up to fourth in the table overnight — displacing Málaga, who were to host Barcelona in Sunday's late game — with a 2-0 win over Levante. Both sides enjoyed sterling seasons last year and are now part of what is shaping up to be a new order in the top half of the table, which also includes Rayo; the Madrid side picked up another three points away at struggling Athletic to move into sixth.

Valencia and Sevilla, two of the teams scrapping to retain their traditional top-six status, met at Mestalla where Ernesto Valverde's shake-up of the club again produced a result. Two goals from Roberto Soldado settled the affair, which did little to dispel the gloom hanging over the Sánchez Pizjuán. A change of coach turned Valencia's season around and Sevilla coach Míchel will be nervously fingering his collar ahead of the King's Cup midweek matches, which pits Sevilla against Zaragoza in the side of the draw that does not contain Real or Barcelona.

"We didn't put two passes together in the first half and this isn't a problem of whether the coach is animated or not. We can't let other teams keep damaging us. The problem we have is to do with us, not the opposition, the president or the sporting management," the under-fire coach said after the match. "We only have to look at the table. We have 22 points and we know we have a problem. We can't repeat nights like this."

Valencia, on the other hand, faces Real Madrid in the domestic cup competition over two legs, which are sandwiched by a league match next weekend. "It's good to be going into the games against Madrid with a win under our belts," said Valverde, who took over from Mauricio Pellegrino last month. "We have 30 points now and we are on the right track."

Other results: Espanyol 1-0 Celta; Valladolid 3-1 Mallorca; Real Sociedad 1-1 Deportivo.