FFT's Spanish expert Tim Stannard looks back on a weekend of La Liga action that saw Real Madrid suffer another slip-up...
LLL is going to straddle two universes. The first is that the next two rounds in La Liga are going to take place: a normal assumption for a normal league.
But this is Spanish football. And in this current juncture of space-time, the season has just wrapped up so all references to the one particular strand of future life is irrelevant. But just go with it anyway. Here’s a bunch of stuff that happened this weekend, starting with a win for the leaders.
No fuss for Barça in La Real rumble
Barcelona pretty much eased their title-winning horse over the finishing line with a comfy 2-0 victory over a Real Sociedad outfit that defended in a predictably dogged and disciplined David Moyes manner. In times of yore, Barca may have become bogged down and disheartened in such matches, but the confidence of knowing the league title is within touching distance helped keep the team focused rather than frustrated.
Real take positives from big blow in La Liga
Well, that took some skill. The local papers turned a day on which the Real Madrid captain was booed as his side all but lost the league title into quite the positive. “They died on their feet!” yelled Sunday’s front cover for AS with Marca declaring that “a heroic Real Madrid said goodbye to La Liga.”
In a way, it is possible to see where both papers are coming from: the 2-2 draw with Valencia was a tremendously battling performance with Madrid doing enough to deserve the win, thrice hitting the post in addition to having a penalty saved by the imperious Diego Alves. But it was not to be, and the result leaves Madrid four points behind Barcelona with two matches to play, whenever they may be.
The other positive that both club and media are managing to take from a third successive season without the league title is the confidence that a similar performance against Juventus will be enough to take the team through to the Champions League final. “We have the feeling that if we repeat this then things will go OK on Wednesday,” said Carlo Ancelotti, who is relying on that hunch in what could be a tricky few days.
Pluses for Atlético despite draw at Levante
LLL likes to go with the glass-half-full attitude to Atlético Madrid whenever possible. Like today. The 2-2 draw at Levante wasn’t great on paper, but was factored out by Valencia and Sevilla both drawing, to leave the mighty Rojiblancos with a four-point cushion over the Mestalla outfit.
The point sees Atlético automatically qualifying for next season’s Champions League in some capacity, and the match also produced a goal for Fernando Torres, who is still a few short of LLL’s prediction of 15 by the end of the season after joining from Milan. Levante will be unequivocally delighted with a share of the spoils, as it now moves the side five points clear of the relegation zone with two games left. Having grown quite used to the Valencian side kicking around La Primera, LLL would rather like them to stay.
Sevilla seek Europe via Europa
With two games left both in La Liga and the Europa League, the latter is Sevilla’s likeliest route for Champions League football next season, especially considering their 3-0 advantage over Fiorentina going into Thursday’s second leg. Back on domestic duty Unai Emery’s men were unable to take advantage of Valencia dropping points at Madrid, but there’s no disgrace in a 1-1 draw at Celta. Sevilla sit three points behind Valencia, and have to hope that Nuno’s men slip up in final matches against Celta and Almería.
Málaga move back into European prime position
With Barcelona expected to beat Athletic Bilbao in the Copa, the battle for seventh in La Liga is quite a hot one, as it should allow passage to the Europa League. That spot is currently occupied by Málaga, who woke up from a slumber to beat Almería on the road, leaving the Andalusians in big trouble should their three points be taken away from them by CAS. Yes, the end of this particular campaign is going to get a bit messy.
Villarreal secure sixth spot
Another team waking up just in time was Villarreal, edging Elche 1-0 for the side’s first Primera victory in 10. That means sixth is secured, even though Villarreal have been camped out in it for what feels like a decade.
Eibar look sunk after Espanyol slip-up
It was the game that Eibar, really, really had to win. But it ended up being the match that Eibar lost. The 2-0 defeat at home to Espanyol seems to have knocked the last bit of stuffing out of the Basque club with Gaizka Garitano fretting after the match that his players seemed to have given up. “The image at the end was very worrying,” admitted the befrowned boss. But there is still some hope. The final two relegation places are set to be between four teams – Eibar, Almería, Deportivo and Granada. And Eibar’s last two matches are at Getafe – not always the most fearsome of foes – and home to the already-relegated Córdoba. One win out of those two might, might, just be enough. But Eibar would be cutting it a bit fine.
Depor continue extreme survival strategy
And so Deportivo’s footballing art project continues with the side attempting to stay up without stooping to the vulgarity of actually winning any games. The 1-1 draw at Athletic was the side’s fifth draw from the past seven games and leaves the Galicians tied with Eibar and Granada on the edge of the relegation zone.
The point in San Mamés will feel a little like three, though, after it was picked up with seconds to spare in injury-time thanks to a header from Lopo. However, this ground-breaking, thought-provoking run will need to come to an end next weekend if Deportivo are to stay up. The club’s final matches are a home clash with Levante and a trip to the Camp Nou. Only one of those can end well.
On-game Granada praying for more life in La Liga
Granada’s survival hopes are now in the hands of the buffoons running the game in Spain. With two wins from two – the second against Córdoba – the Andalusians have motivation and momentum up the yazoo going into the final two games against Real Sociedad and Atlético Madrid. If they take place. “One of those that will be most impacted by the strike will be Granada,” admitted José Ramón Sandoval, who has led Granada to two wins from two since taking over, a bold late change that now looks inspirational.
Córdoba a little peed off at life in La Primera
There’s going down fighting, and there’s going down in-fighting. Córdoba chose the latter after losing 2-0 in a derby with Granada and suffering the wrath of tetchy striker Florin Andone. “I don’t know how to play a bleeping pass anymore, and neither does the team,” roared the striker. “I’m done with this. If we are bad, then we are bad. But at least we have to go out there with some kind of bleeping attitude and try.”