By Stephen Mackey MADRID, Spain, AP
Sevilla rose to the top of the Spanish league with a 2-1 victory over FC Barcelona on goals by Alexander Kerzhakov and Daniel Alves on Saturday.
Ronaldinho opened the scoring for the defending champion at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium only for Sevilla to rally and boost its hopes of a first title since 1946.
Barcelona had two players sent off, and Sevilla one.
Sevilla defender Aitor Ocio was the first to go in the 29th minute for tripping Ronaldinho, leading to a penalty which Ronaldinho missed. Visiting forward Ludovic Giuly went in the 62nd, and was followed by right back Gianluca Zambrotta 14 minutes later.
Sevilla coach Juande Ramos was back in charge after being knocked unconscious by a bottle thrown from the crowd during Sevilla’s Copa del Rey match at Real Betis three days earlier.
However, crowd trouble occured again when fighting broke out among spectators behind one of the goals at halftime, leading police officers to enter the area and draw their truncheons. At least one man was led away.
Barcelona’s defeat made for a poor start to a crucial week.
Coach Frank Rijkaard’s team hopes to overturn a 2-1 deficit at Liverpool in the Champions League on Tuesday and hosts its biggest rival Real Madrid in the league the following Saturday
In another 25th-round game, Fernando Morientes’ 10th goal of the season brought Valencia a 1-0 win over struggling Celta Vigo, keeping his team in third place and in contention for a third league title in six years.
The striker performed an aerial kick to deflect a center from substitute Hugo Viana in the 67th minute and bring Valencia its 10th win of the season at its Mestalla stadium.
Sevilla leads with 50 points, while Barcelona has 49, and Valencia 46.
On Sunday, fourth-place Real Madrid hosts Getafe, while fifth-place Atletico Madrid visits Recreativo Huelva.
Also, it’s: Espanyol vs. Villarreal; Mallorca vs. Levante; Zaragoza vs. Real Sociedad; Deportivo La Coruna vs. Real Betis; Racing Santander vs. Osasuna; and Athletic Bilbao vs Gimnastic Tarragona.
Ronaldinho rose unchallenged in the 14th minute to head home Zambrotta’s cross after the defender had beaten the offside trap and surged to the goalline.
The goal was the Brazilian’s 17th of the season, one less than Sevilla’s league-leading striker Frederic Kanoute.
But Ronaldinho had cause to rue his penalty miss when Kerzhakov drew Sevilla level in the 39th.
The recently signed Russian, who was replacing suspended striker Luis Fabiano, received a short pass from Alves, before holding off Rafael Marquez and swiveling to fire a low shot home.
Alves gave Sevilla the lead with a 61st-minute free kick from the edge of the area which wrong-footed goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
Barcelona’s problems increased a minute later when Giuly was ejected, apparently for using abusive language, following a clash with Alves.
Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, who missed Wednesday’s Copa del Rey win over Zaragoza as he has not fully recovered from the serious knee injury he sustained in September, appeared as a 69th-minute substitute.
Zambrotta then received two yellow cards in quick succession, the first for a foul and the second for his protest.
Sevilla, which also inflicted a 3-0 loss on Barcelona in the European Supercup in August, has taken 31 points from a possible 36 at home this season.
Valencia gave a lifeless first-half display and then had goalkeeper Santiago Canizares _ playing his 400th first-division game _ to thank for defying a charge by the visitor soon after the interval.
Canizares, who played for Celta in the early 1990s, twice thwarted top scorer Fernando Baiano and made a diving save from midfielder Fabian Canobbio’s long shot. The goalkeeper then grasped Baiano’s goal-bound header in injury time to preserve his team’s lead.
Valencia left back Asier Del Horno made his long-awaited debut for the club following his euro8 million (US$10.6 million) transfer from Chelsea last July. The Spanish international has recovered from the Achilles tendon injury which caused him to miss the World Cup.
The match was watched by Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini, whose side visits Valencia on Tuesday in a Champions League second-round return leg. The score stand at 2-2.
Celta’s defeat gave it just one win from 14 league games, leaving it in 16th place and threatening the position of coach Fernando Vazquez.