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Match round-up - First Division, Day 38

Another amazing end to the season, with several issues not decided until late on in the evening. Barcelona had already won the league title though, and there was a festival atmosphere in the Nou Camp for the last match of the league season against Deportivo, with Xavi saying goodbye to the home fans. Luis Enrique made several changes to the line-up, resting Luis Suárez for the two cup finals to come, and giving Masip a run out in goal, but even so his side took an early lead when Messi headed in Rafinha’s cross. Messi had a strike disallowed for a non-existent offside, and Fabricio had to keep out Messi, Pedro and Neymar before the break, and with an hour on the clock Messi got his second of the evening after Neymar set him up on a quick breakaway. With results elsewhere going against them, at that point Depor were down in the bottom three, but they didn’t give up, Lucas Pérez latching on to a Borges cross to get one back soon afterwards. Medunjanin hit the bar with a fee kick a few minutes later, and with a quarter of an hour to go Salomao levelled the scores with a snap-shot past Masip after another Medunjanin free kick was blocked. That gave the Galicians the point they needed to keep them in the top flight for another year, and after two recent disappointments on the last day of the season, this time fortune was on their side.

As things panned out Granada and Atlético Madrid both needed a point to achieve their differing objectives, the locals to steer clear of the drop zone and the visitors to stay in third spot, and it was no surprise that their match ended 0-0. Granada’s position was not clear though despite three wins in a row under new coach José Ramón Sandoval, and it was not until news came in that Almería couldn’t catch them that they started to relax. Piti in particular caused a few problems for Oblak and his defence before he limped off ahortly before the break, but neither keeper had much to do until Roberto had to save a long shot from Koke early on in the second half. Hearing that fourth placed Valencia were now winning at Almería it was Atlético’s turn to sweat, but neither side tried too hard after that, and in the end it was smiles all round as the delighted fans invaded the pitch at the final whistle.

Excitement though at Almería, where the Andalusians went ahead twice before eventually succumbing 2-3 to Valencia. The decision by the Court of Abitration for Sports (CAS) to wait until next week before ruling on the proposed three point deduction meant that Almería started the game just two points off safety, and Thomas gave them early hope with a long free kick which went into the net off the post and keeper Diego Alves. Valencia themselves needed a win for two reasons though, firstly to give them a chance of beating Atlético for third place, but also to prevent Sevilla from overtaking them for the fourth Champions League spot, and midway through the first half Otamendi equalized with a powerful header from De Paul’s corner. A few minutes later though substitute Soriano restored the lead after Alves could only push out a shot from Thievy, and soon afterwards the veteran midfielder poked another shot just wide of the post. With the first half coming to a close however Feghouli levelled the scores again with a shot from close to goal after Javi Fuego played Gayà’s centre across the goalmouth, and after the restart Rubén had to be at his best to keep out a Dani Parejo free kick and a header from his own player, Thomas. There was a blow for the Ches when Alves was carried off with a serious knee injury, but with ten minutes to go Feghouli played on a long throw from replacement keeper Yoel, and Paco Alcácer got past Casado to fire the winner past the keeper. Parejo was sent off for a second bookable offence with a couple of minutes to go, but Valencia held on to ensure that vital fourth spot, and send their hosts down irrespective of whether the CAS docks them the three point penalty or not.

All of that meant that Eibar are also relegated despite a 3-0 victory over bottom club Córdoba, the Basque side losing out on head-to-head results in a three-way points tie with Deportivo and Granada. The locals needed to win to have any chance of staying up, and with only five minutes gone Arruabarrena headed them into the lead after Capa played a long ball from Dani García across goal. Bóveda had a shot saved by Saizar a couple of minutes later, and three minutes after that Raúl Navas headed the second from a Javi Lara corner. There was a brief reaction from the visitors when Florin tested Irureta with a header, but with ten minutes to go to the interval Capa ran through to fire home the third, already putting the game beyond the reach of the Andalusians, who were on for one of the lowest points totals in the history of the league. After that though they had to sit back and wait for the other results to go in their favour, and when they heard that Deportivo had saved a point in the Nou Camp they knew they were down. Coach Gaizka Garitano announced soon after the final whistle that he would be resigning after taking the club through the most successful period in their history, albeit that his side still do have a remote chance of saving themselves if teams such as Elche or Getafe cannot settle their financial obligations by the stipulated deadlines.

Valencia’s late win deprived Sevilla of fourth spot, even though Unai Emery’s team beat Málaga 2-3. Both keepers were in action early on, Kameni saving from Aleix Vidal and Sergio Rico keeping out Javi Guerra. Midway through the first half the locals were left with ten men when Weligton was sent off for catching Gameiro with a flying elbow, but even so Juanmi and Amrabat went close either side of half time. Some seven minutes into the second half though Reyes ran on to Coke’s return pass to open the scoring, and just three minutes later Banega made it two with an angled shot from the edge of the area. Reyes turned an Aleix Vidal cross just wide of the post soon afterwards, and Vidal himself got the third after Trémoulinas set him up. That appeared to settle it, but Javi Guerra got one back with a long shot inside the far post, and with the game in injury time Guerra poked a Rosales centre past Rico to close the gap to one goal. In the end though neither team achieved their objective, Málaga losing out on the European spots and their opponents finishing a point behind the Ches. They do have a second chance of making it into the Champions League next season though if they can win the Europa League final next Wednesday, which would mean an unprecedented five Spanish sides in the top competition. Sevilla certainly deserve it after the best points haul in their history.

Whatever happens, one of the Europa League places is reserved for the Copa del Rey winners, but finalists Athletic Bilbao hedged their bets by beating the already qualified sixth placed Villarreal 4-0 to finish seventh, which gives them a better class ticket anyway. Aduríz opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 24th minute after Jokic brought him down in the area, and just three minutes later Iraola (playing his last match in the San Mamés stadium before retiring) ran on to an Aduríz pass to lift a shot past Juan Carlos. Beñat made it three a few minutes later with a free kick from outside of the area, and although Herrerín had to be at his best to keep out Moreno and Mario, Aduríz made sure of the result with a fourth goal on the hour mark, making him the first division’s top Spanish goalscorer. A great end to the league season for the Basque side, and they can now go into next Saturday’s cup final knowing that their place in Europe is assured whatever the result.

If Sevilla are successful on Wednesday, then eighth place should also allow entry to Europe, and Celta snatched that spot from several teams after coming from behind twice with ten men to beat rivals Espanyol 3-2. Things seemed to go against the Galicians midway through the first half when keeper Sergio Alvarez was sent off for bringing down Sergio García as he advanced on goal, the visiting captain slotting home the resulting spot kick past substitute keeper Rubén Blanco. Rubén had to keep out Stuani soon afterwards, and Sergio García and Víctor Alvarez went close, but Casilla had to save from Augusto Fernández, and with seven minutes to go to the break Hugo Mallo headed the equalizer after Casilla could only block a shot from Orellana. Three minutes after the restart Stuani restored the lead after running on to a Sergio García through ball, but Cabral made it all square again with an angled header down past the keeper from Nolito’s long free kick. And although Héctor Moreno headed against the crossbar a few minutes later, play went down the other end for Nolito to fire home the winner.

Rayo Vallecano also had an outside chance of making it into the top eight, although a 2-4 defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad meant they finished a still respectable eleventh. Alberto Bueno headed against the crossbar for the locals early on, but with twenty minutes gone the visitors scored twice in quick succession, Carlos Vela getting the first from a Canales cross, and Chory Castro volleying home the second from Rubén Pardo’s centre. However Embarba headed against the bar again and Bueno got on the end of Embarba’s cross to narrow the gap before the break, and Morcillo headed the equalizer after Ze Castro headed on a Trashorras corner some twenty minutes in to the second half. But a few minutes later Agirretxe turned Chory’s cross past Toño to restore the lead, and a minute later Elustondo wrapped things up with a shot from outside of the area following another Chory assist. Real end the season a place behind their hosts in twelfth spot, and David Moyes will be looking to build on that next season.

Two other games with nothing at stake, second placed Real Madrid at least ending the season on a high after thrashing neighbours Getafe 7-3. Although the team have won no trophies this season, Ronaldo notched up yet another hat-trick to tie up not only the league “Pichichi” award but also the European Golden Boot, the Portuguese striker opening the scoring with a header from Marcelo’s cross early on. The visitors came back however with two goals in three minutes, Escudero and then Diego Castro beating Iker Casillas with shots from outside of the area, the fans rallying behind their keeper after some initial whistles from the crowd. Ronaldo though was not going to be upstaged, and he added two more in as many minutes around the half hour mark, the first a well struck free kick past Codina, and the second a penalty after Vigaray brought down Chicharito, taking his tally for the season to 48 league goals, two behind Messi’s all-time record. With half time coming to a close Lacen made it all square again after Sarabia’s corner fell to him, but just a couple of minutes after the restart Chicharito restored the lead after Ronaldo’s header from a Marcelo cross came back off the bar, and James made it five with another free kick which left Codina clutching at air. Ancelotti took off Ronaldo for the crowd to cheer him off, and on came the 16 year old Odegaard, the youngest player to make his debut for the side at least in the modern era. With twenty minutes to go Jesé got in on the act with an angled shot, and in the last minute he crossed in for Marcelo to complete the scoring. A positive end to the season, but with nothing to their name this year there may be changes for the new campaign, the continuity of Ancelotti in particular in doubt. They set the bar pretty high at this club!

Levante and Elche meanwhile played out a 0-0 draw earlier in the evening, a result which keeps the visitors four points above their regional rivals in mid-table. Honours were shared in the first half, Morales firing a shot over the bar and Víctor Rodríguez bringing a couple of saves out of Diego Mariño. Vyntra headed a corner just wide after the interval, and midway through the second half Elche were awarded a penalty when Toño bundled over Aarón Ñíguez in the area. Aarón pulled rank on the normal penalty taker Lombán, but he fired his spot kick straight at the keeper, who also managed to block his follow up shot. Cristian Herrera went close a couple of times after that, and Mariño turned a wide Damián Suárez free kick around the post in the dying minutes, but in the end both teams settled for a point. Elche have one last battle to win though, as they still have to settle their debts with the tax authorities (as do Getafe) if they are to continue in the top flight. (23.05.15)