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By ESPN Staff

La Liga: Barca miss chance to return to the top

MADRID, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Barcelona and Real Madrid returned to action in the Primera Liga after the Christmas break with disappointing performances on Sunday.

Champions Barcelona scrambled a barely deserved 1-1 at Getafe, while Real slumped to a second defeat in a row when they went down 2-0 against struggling Deportivo Coruna.

Midfielder Xavi got Barca out of jail with a superbly struck free kick to cancel out an opportunist goal by Getafe striker Daniel Guiza who had cashed in on a howling error by Mexican centre back Rafael Marquez.

Depor, who had not won in nine games and had conceded 10 goals without reply in their last three, outclassed a rudderless Real Madrid who have not won at the Riazor in over 15 years. The results mean Sevilla stay top of the pile with 37 points from 17 games despite their 2-1 defeat at Zaragoza on Saturday.

Barca, who have a game in hand but have won just once in their last four outings, are two points adrift of the leaders and three ahead of third-placed Real who have 32 points.

Zaragoza are two points further back in fourth, level on 30 with Valencia who notched up their fourth victory in a row with a 1-0 win at regional rivals Villarreal.

Getafe, who beat Real Madrid earlier in the season, made an ambitious start against Barca as they deprived them of the ball in the opening quarter and forced the visitors to live off scraps of possession.

MARQUEZ MISTAKE Missing the influential Ronaldinho and Deco through suspension, Barca looked lost as the fog descended on the Coliseo and Getafe took full advantage to snatch the lead nine minutes into the second half after Marquez's howler.

The Mexican, one of several Barca players who arrived late for training this week after the Christmas break, scuffed a backpass allowing Guiza to pounce on the loose ball, shrug off a challenge from Carles Puyol and side-foot into the net.

Barca continued to struggle in the second half, but midfielder Xavi came to the rescue when he left keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri standing as he curled a superbly struck free kick around the wall and into the top corner 20 minutes from time.

Deportivo made a whirlwind start at the Riazor and it came as no surprise when defender Joan Capdevila put them ahead when he fired a free kick through a ragged wall and past a despairing Iker Casillas in the 10th minute.

Depor, led by the inspired Angel Arizmendi, had a host of chances to extend their lead during the first half and the former Atletico Madrid striker was unfortunate not to add a second when he danced his way through the Real defence only to hit the post.

But Arizmendi got his reward 11 minutes into the second half when he skipped past World and European Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro and squared the ball across the goalmouth for young striker Cristian to poke home into the open net.

Real's new signing Fernando Gago was taken off early in the second half after making a forgettable debut but Real continued to draw a blank when Ronaldo came on to replace the Argentine.