FFT.com's Spanish guru Tim Stannard looks ahead to the penultimate matchday of La Liga action...
LLL was quite wrong on that one. The blog was thinking that the Spanish game would go all Riggs and do something a little bit crazy at the end of the season. But instead, a judge intervened to say that a players’ strike was illegal, the union backed down and the head of the Spanish league continued throwing public insults towards the Spanish FA though the media. A battle might have been won, but the struggle for power in Westeros is far from over.
Anyhoo... the season will be completed as it should, with Real Madrid probably being the least enthusiastic participants. Here’s what to look out for, if you're able to watch 10 games simultaneously...
How Barca might lose the league title…
Barcelona are in a bit of a weird place at the moment. The club has prevailed in the Champions League and will be favourites against Juventus, avoiding a mentally draining Clásico build-up for the final in Berlin. The Copa del Rey against Athletic is being seen – especially in Catalan media circles – as a bit of a shoo-in. As is the league title, even though LLL can see a scenario where not everything may be as clear cut.
Barca are going to have to get their collective heads back in the game at the Vicente Calderón against an Atlético Madrid team very much needing a win to secure third, with no last-day pressure. It's a Rojiblancos team not quite firing on all cylinders, but still one more than capable of overturning the Barca apple cart and starting an arrow fight with the Sheriff of Nottingham’s troops.
Then we wind forward one week to see a difference of one point at the top, with Real Madrid having beaten Espanyol and Deportivo digging in desperately at the Camp Nou and holding the match goalless with 15 minutes to go. Meanwhile, Getafe are doing what Getafe do and rolling over like puppies at the Santiago Bernabéu. Could happen. Probably won’t, but could.
Atlético Madrid vs Barcelona - Sunday 19.00 CET
How Real won’t let Barca lose the league title…
Now, one of the main reasons why this probably won’t happen is that LLL has a feeling Real Madrid might well have mentally downed tools after their debilitating and depressing – for them, anyway – Champions League knockout against Juventus. The press have given up on a fight for the title, so it’s no wonder that the players and coach might well have done the same and be on course for a defeat at Espanyol.
One of the key figures who might have taken Madrid through this game is Sergio Ramos. Unfortunately, he might be out for the rest of the campaign with a calf injury. Even Carlo Ancelotti himself won’t be on the sidelines, trying to manoeuvre at least one of his eyebrows, as the Italian is serving out a suspension for pretty much being sarcastic to the referee last week in the draw with Valencia.
Espanyol vs Real Madrid - Sunday 19.00 CET
Will clubs take an English approach to Europe?
LLL is curious to see how the potential Europa League spot for a seventh-placed finisher will fare over the next couple of games. That passport is dependent on Barcelona beating Athletic in the Copa del Rey final – a match being played at the Camp Nou, let’s not forget. There has been a lot of talk in the papers about Málaga and Espanyol around how the squads are making a big push to squeeze into seventh, but LLL isn't quite buying it, what with both teams only just managing to hang on in there in La Liga week in, week out; never mind the added pressure that the 123 matches in the Europa League would bring.
Villarreal v Málaga - Sunday 19.00 CET
Elche v Athletic Bilbao - Sunday 19.00 CET
Espanyol v Real Madrid - Sunday 19.00 CET
Depor try new phase to stave off Segunda
Over the years Deportivo’s campaigns have been based on themes, depending on the managers in charge. Almost like a brush-chewing grande artiste going through different experimental phases throughout his career. True, there have been ups and downs, with the club ranging from Super Depor, to Dull Depor, to Destitute Depor. The latest incarnation under Víctor Sánchez – a third coach in one year – is Video Depor.
Watching TV has been a big part of the new boss’s strategy for keeping Depor up, one that included setting up a projection screen in a San Mamés dressing room shortly before last week’s draw against Athletic. “If a team is tactically intelligent then it will improve its performance,” claims Víctor.
Depor haven't won in 14 games, and that record is going to have to be broken against Levante on Sunday if the Galicians have any chance of staying up – their final game is an away day at the Camp Nou. Oh dear.
Deportivo vs Levante - Sunday 19.00 CET
Eibar with last, last, last (seriously, the last) proper chance to stay up. Apart from next week...
If Eibar were going to choose an away day for a match of this magnitude, then the wide-open spaces of the Coliseum would be perfect. The Basque side are facing a team that are five points clear of the relegation zone, can be floppier than a very floppy fish and will be able to pack thousands of away fans into the stands to make it look like their own ground. But with stands.
Eibar are currently second from bottom, tied on points with Granada and Deportivo and one behind Almería. Realistically, two of this sorry bunch will be joining Córdoba in the second tier next season.
And LLL suspects it could be either Almería, away to Sevilla on Sunday, or the poor, plucky Basque outfit who've had multiple chances to save themselves but don’t seem to be able to do it. Eibar might fail again, despite the advantages to be found in their home-from-home in the Spanish capital on Sunday.
Real Sociedad vs Granada - Sunday 19.00 CET
Getafe vs Eibar - Sunday 19.00 CET
Sevilla vs Almería - Sunday 19.00 CET