Tim Stannard reviews the weekend action from La Liga, after the Big Two get a helping hand from Lady Luck. Oh, and some referees…
The weekend was very much a case of the big boys getting all the luck – including some friendly refereeing decisions – to keep the plebs in their place.
Villarreal put Barcelona to work in el Madrigal
However, 2-2 wasn't quite the definitive end to the title race that was suspected after Atlético’s defeat, but it’s now fairly close
Perhaps LLL was being a little mean to call the Yellow Submarine a false banana skin on Friday. (Has such a sentence ever been written before in recorded history?) Villarreal supporters and boss Marcelino himself will say that the clash against Barcelona was won fair and square after his team “scored two legal goals”.
There were big questions over Barça’s, which put the visitors into a two-goal lead. Ivan Rakitic, scorer of the first, was offside when a preceding free-kick was taken, then for the second, goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo got a clean touch on the ball in a penalty-box challenge on Neymar.
6 - No player has won more penalties than Neymar in the top five European leagues this season (level with Jamie Vardy). Unstoppable.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 20, 2016
Marcelino was frantically waving from the stands at this point, after being sent off for protesting that a handball from Gerard Piqué should have led to a second yellow card. It was that kind of game. However, 2-2 wasn't quite the definitive end to the title race that was suspected after Atlético’s defeat, but it’s now fairly close to being the case.
Madrid cruise through despite refereeing scare
To the great joy of the local press, which spent Monday morning drooling over the BBC, all three of the restored forwards ended up on the scoresheet
Although a 4-0 defeat for Sevilla in the Santiago Bernabéu looks suspiciously like them doing the normally being-sucky-away-from-home thing, the result could have been considerably different had a kindly referee allowed what looked like a perfectly good breakaway goal for Kévin Gameiro instead of calling it offside.
That key moment arrived during a frenetic period in the second half when Cristiano Ronaldo had contrived to miss a penalty at 1-0 and the game may well have slipped away from Madrid.
But to the great joy of the local press, which spent Monday morning drooling over the BBC, all three of the restored forwards ended up on the scoresheet. It at least gives some hope that the upcoming Clásico in the Camp Nou won’t be a complete disaster. “If we play every match like this, we can do great things,” said Zinedine Zidane.
G-Nev re-thinks holiday plans to be visible in Valencia
At least something went right in Mestalla eventually. Unfortunately for Gary Neville, though, it was only his decision to delay joining up with England until Thursday.
When fans see their team in danger, they take positions. For the good of everyone Mr Lim, you need to do the same
Although it won’t make too much difference to a Valencia side now in a relegation fight, or supporters that very much want the Englishman’s departure, the ‘optics’ of the Valencia manager staying to fulfil his primary role is important.
The team’s results have been brutally bad, with just one win in the last five in La Liga, and three straight defeats in Mestalla with just one goal scored. The latest in that long line was against Celta Vigo, who suckerpunched the home team twice with 10 minutes left to leave los Che in 14th and just a point ahead of Las Palmas.
“When fans see their team in danger, they take positions,” wrote Fernando Alvarez in Monday’s Marca, in a message to Valencia’s owner. “For the good of everyone Mr Lim, you need to do the same.”
Champions League toils take toll on Atlético
Atlético Madrid’s aforementioned defeat presented the opportunity for a handy reminder from Diego Simeone that the team is not Barcelona and cannot be expected to win on a constant basis.
I don’t like to look for excuses. We are happy to be premium. We play at four and they can watch us in China
Indeed, it is a bit of backhanded compliment to suggest otherwise. The late loss up in Molinón was very much a product of some tired legs after 120 minutes and a penalty shootout against PSV in the Champions League on Tuesday.
When quizzed about having to play on Saturday afternoon, it was hard to tell if Diego Simeone was being more than a little fruity in his reply. “I don’t like to look for excuses. We are happy to be premium. We play at four and they can watch us in China.”
And that must be a good thing, considering a Chinese consortium currently owns 20% of the club.
Last-minute madness ahoy in rampant relegation battle
With the league title race largely over, and the blog pretty uninterested in the non-scrap for third, fourth and fifth, LLL is now fixated on a relegation battle that is delivering the thrills, shocks and popcorn-tossing surprises. Well, if you happen to be into late losses for Levante anyway. Which the blog is.
All that kerfuffle leaves Levante squatting at the bottom of the table, but with enough fight in the tank to close the four-point gap behind Granada
It was tough on the Valencia club, which summed up a weekend that was full of late plot twists for La Liga’s bottom-dwellers.
On Friday, Getafe looked set to pick up their first victory in 10, 1-0 up on Eibar with just three minutes to go. But then that pesky Borja Bastón popped up with a late equaliser for his 17th league strike of the season to leave Getafe in the relegation zone and questions over the future of manager Fran Escribá. “My job is the least of my concerns,” was the post-match retort from the Coliseum chief.
Saturday started with a bit of a shock after Sporting pulled out a win against Atlético with just a minute left on the clock, while Granada were set to take away three huge points in a clash against fellow relegation battlers Rayo. But with three minutes to go, Rayo – who seem to thrive on giving away leads – battled back for a 2-2 draw.
All that kerfuffle leaves Levante squatting at the bottom of the table, but with enough fight in the tank to close the four-point gap behind Granada, who sit just outside of the relegation zone ahead of Sporting and Getafe.
One team that has temporarily escaped the relegation space battle are Las Palmas, who continued a sterling run of form to beat Real Sociedad in San Sebastian, with a 1-0 win leaving them on 33 points.