An exciting end to the season, with surprises right up to the last minute. The biggest shock of all though was the relegation of Villarreal, who lost 0-1 to Atlético Madrid thanks to a goal by Falcao with just two minutes left on the clock. The locals applauded their opponents on to the pitch out of respect for them winning the Europa League final midweek, but after that it was cut-throat stuff, with Marco Rubén and Marcos Senna both going close before the break. Atlético themselves needed the win though to keep alive their hopes of reaching the fourth Champions League spot, and after the restart they came back, Diego López having to save from Tiago, Diego and Salvio, and Filipe Luis hitting the bar when it would have been easier to score. Angel brought a good save out of Courtois with a well struck free kick in reply, but with two minutes to go Falcao got on the end of Diego's corner to head past the local keeper. A draw would still have saved Villarreal, and with the game in injury time Marco Rubén headed inches wide. But the game ended soon afterwards, and disconsolate president Fernando Roig was given an ovation by the supportive home fans as he came down to the pitch to console his players. A devastating blow for Miguel Angel Lotina's team, who had only spent the last four minutes of the season in the drop zone, and to add to their woes their B team will be automatically relegated from the second division as a result.
Zaragoza started their game at Getafe still down in the bottom three, but they knew that, with Rayo and Granada playing each other, a fourth win in a row would ensure their safety. The game swung their way when Sarabia was sent off midway through the first half after picking up two bookings in the same incident, and Moyà had to save from Apoño and Pablo Alvarez before the break and Lafita immediately afterwards. A few minutes later the locals were down to nine men after Miguel Torres was also given a second yellow card for handling in the area, and Apoño stepped up to put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot. Güiza should probably have equalised when he shot over the top a few minutes after that, but Dujmovic and Miku were also shown red cards by an over-zealous José Antonio Teixeira Vitienes, and with the game in time added on Postiga wrapped things up with a shot from outside of the area over the head of the local keeper. An amazing escape for Manolo Jiménez's side, the first time in the history of the league that a team has saved themselves after dropping twelve points away from safety.
Apoño's goal meant that Rayo Vallecano were then in the drop zone, and after six defeats in a row things were looking grim. The first half of their crunch match against Granada was fairly even, Ighalo testing Cobeño a couple of times and Uche and Martins going close, and Armenteros and Michu both failing to find the target at the other end. Diego Costa brought a couple of saves out of Julio César either side of half time, and Jara fired a shot in to the stands when free on goal. When news came in that Villarreal were losing, the visitors eased off, knowing that if things stayed as they were they were safe whatever the result. And with the game in the last minute of ordinary time Michu poked a shot against the crossbar, and Tamudo was there (albeit in a more than likely offside position) to head the rebound back in to the net. If Villarreal could have saved a point then Granada would have gone down instead, but it was not to be, and both teams celebrated after the final whistle.
Sporting Gijón were relegated though after a 1-0 defeat at Málaga. The Asturians needed an unlikely chain of events to save themselves, but first of all they had to win against a side who were defending their fourth position in the league. In the end though Clemente's team hardly got near to Kameni's goal, and only a string of great saves by Juan Pablo prevented the locals from going ahead before the break. Rondón also headed a Joaquín free kick against the post, but early in the second half the Venezuelan striker got on the end of Cazorla's corner to steer a header down past the keeper. With Atlético on their heels though, the Andalusians needed another to be safe, and they kept up the pressure in to the second half, Juan Pablo in action again to save from Cazorla and Van Nistelrooy, who was playing his last match before retiring. When Isco was sent off near the end for a second bookable offence it was more a question of defending, but Sporting had already given up, and Pellegrini's side qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history. The massive investments by their new shareholders is already starting to bear fruit.
Meanwhile Levante beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0 to take them back up to the Europa League spots, where they will be joined by Atlético Madrid after their victory against Villarreal. It was a great achievement by Juan Ignacio Martínez's side, who have the smallest budget in the first division, and this will be their first ever appearance in a European competition in their 102 years of existence. Athletic of course will also return to the competition by virtue of reaching the Copa del Rey final, as their opponents Barcelona have qualified for the Champions League, and Bielsa was therefore able to rest some of his star players, exhausted after their midweek defeat to Atlético in this season's E-League final. Even so the Basque side started the better of the two, Toquero going close and Ibai Gómez bringing a couple of saves out of Keylor Navas, who was making his first appearance of the season in place of the suspended Munúa. The locals came back however, and Ghezzal wrapped things up with his first two goals in a Levante shirt, running on to Cabral's long ball to lift a shot over the advancing Iraizoz on the stroke of half time, and then beating Iraizoz for a second time after Barkero set him up. And when Farinós completed the scoring from the penalty spot after Amorebieta handled in the area, it was time for the fireworks to begin.
Levante's win left no place in Europe though for Osasuna, despite their 2-4 victory at the already relegated Racing Santander. The Cantabrians had not won a single game since they beat Osasuna half a season ago, but they got off to a best possible start when Stuani headed in Jairo's cross with less than a minute on the clock. Before the break however Ibrahima had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside, and Nekounam fired a shot against the post, and soon after the restart Ibrahima headed the equaliser after Timor's attempted shot bounced up in front of goal. Midway through the second half Cejudo put the visitors in front after Raúl García's shot came back off the post, and García himself headed the third on the follow up after Mario had saved his penalty kick. With ten minutes to go Jairo got one back with an impressive shot from outside of the area, but Roversio completed the scoring for Mendilibar's side with a last minute header from Cejudo's corner.
Mallorca also lose out on the top six after a 4-1 defeat against a record breaking Real Madrid. With the league title already in the bag, Madrid's only interest was to reach the 100 point total, which had never been done before. But that was enough to motivate them, and Higuaín had a strike ruled out for a dubious offside before Ronaldo headed Marcelo's cross past Aouate, his 46th of the season in the league. A few minutes later Benzema made it two after his fellow striker Higuaín set him up, and Özil scored the third early on in the second half, lobbing the keeper after Higuaín laid back Benzema's pass. Chori Castro pulled one back for the visitors soon afterwards, but Özil scored his second of the night three minutes later, and after that it was a question of whether Ronaldo could score any more to close the gap on Messi. He didn't in the end, but after the final whistle there were prolonged celebrations of a record season for Mourinho's side. Roll on next year!
Espanyol and Sevilla were out of the running for the European places after last weekend's games, and they played out a 1-1 draw in their last fixture of the season. Both teams had chances in the first half, Coke clearing from under the feet of Coutinho, and Cristian Alvarez pushing a close range header from Negredo over the top. With the half time whistle approaching though Negredo ran on to Rakitic's long ball to steer a shot wide of the keeper and give the visitors the lead. After the restart Alvaro Vázquez brought a good save out of Palop, and with a quarter of an hour to go Coutinho picked up a pass from Verdú before cutting in from left of the area to equalise. It was not enough for the frustrated home fans though, and after a run of poor results at home there were protests from them when the game ended. (13.05.12)
Everything to play for tomorrow night, with eight matches kicking off at the same time to decide who will be playing in Europe next season and who will be going down. Two games with nothing at stake were brought forward to Saturday evening though, with Real Sociedad beating third placed Valencia 1-0 in the opening match of the weekend. In the absence of Soldado, Aduríz was given the striker's role, and he headed against the bar early on. Illarra headed just over at the other end though and Vela brought a good save out of Diego Alves, but Aduríz just failed to find the target a couple of times either side of half time, and Pablo hit the post soon after the restart. Aranburu was playing his last match before retiring, and Alves prevented him from celebrating it with a goal. But soon afterwards Griezmann got on the end of Xabi Prieto's cross to score what was to prove the only goal, and a few minutes later Aranburu went off to a sanding ovation, knowing he had captained the side to another successful season.
It was a last game in charge for Valencia's Unai Emery, and Guardiola was also sitting on the Barcelona bench for the last time in the league when they visited Betis later in the day. Barça started strongly, Casto having to save from Pedro and Afellay before Busquets headed the visitors in to the lead from Xavi's ninth minute corner. And they could have gone further ahead after that, Xavi curling a free kick wide and Casto saving from Adriano and Keita either side of the break. However a few minutes in to the second half Dani Alves got himself sent off for a second bookable offence, and after Valdés and Piqué scrambled away an effort from Nacho, Rubén Castro got free twice in three minutes to turn the scoreline around. Another goal would have cost Valdés his fifth Zamora prize (the keeper was only playing due to an injury to Pinto), but Messi hit the post with a free kick, and with game coming to an end Keita flung himself at Montoya's cross to save a draw for his beloved coach. (12.05.12)