An amazing penultimate weekend of the season, all ten games scheduled to kick off simultaneously on Sunday evening with so many issues yet to be resolved. To start with, the title race is now down to Barcelona and Real Madrid after Atlético Madrid lost 2-1 at Levante, the defeat leaving them three points below the leaders with an inferior head-to-head record. With the hosts already relegated, Simeone’s side were not expecting too many problems, and with less than two minutes on the clock Fernando Torres ran on to Koke’s through ball to put them ahead. However on the half hour mark Víctor Casadesús made it all square with an impressive header from Cuero’s cross, and at half time the visiting coach (who was in the stands serving out a ban) decided to bring on Griezmann and Carrasco, who had been rested at the start together with Godín following the midweek Champions League game in Munich. Early in the second half Savic headed a good chance wide, and Griezmann saw Diego Mariño push his effort round the post. Morales and Rossi both went close at the other end though, and with the game coming to a close Morales got clear on a quick counter-attack and slipped the ball through for Rossi to score the winner past Oblak, only the fourth time that the keeper had let in more than one goal all season.
Barcelona though stay in top spot after they thrashed city neighbours Espanyol 5-0 in the Nou Camp. Messi started things off in the eighth minute with a well struck free kick, and a few minutes later Rakitic got the ball in the net only to be pulled up for a borderline offside. Soon after the restart though Messi put Luis Suárez through for him to make it two, and some ten minutes later the Uruguayan striker headed a third from Neymar’s corner, his 37 th of the season in the league keeping him on track for the Liga “Pichichi” prize and the European Golden Boot. With a quarter of an hour to go substitute Rafinha got in on the act, running the ball in to the empty net just a minute after coming on after Pau López fumbled a cross from Neymar, and Neymar himself completed the scoring after Dani Alves and Luis Suárez combined to set him up. .
Barcelona remain a point ahead of Real Madrid, who struggled in the end to beat Valencia 3-2. Like Atlético, the midweek Champions League game against Manchester City had taken its toll, with Keylor Navas, Dani Carvajal and Bale all out, and Ronaldo and Benzema in the line up, although still not fully fit. Even so Zidane’s side went two up at the break, Ronaldo picking up a pass from Marcelo to open the scoring, and Benzema adding a second close to half time, albeit that referee Fernández Borbolán failed to spot that he was offside in the build up. Benzema brought a good save out of Diego Alves after the restart, but Dani Parejo hit the bar with a free kick, and soon afterwards Rodrigo pulled one back following a poor clearance by Varane from an André Gomes cross. Ronaldo restored the two goal cushion after James put him through four minutes later, but Kiko Casilla had to be at his best to keep out Parejo, Rodrigo and Alcácer, and with nine minutes to go André Gomes scored his side’s second with an angled shot following a short corner. Any hope the Ches had of saving a point ended though when Rodrigo was sent off for insulting a linesman, and Madrid held on after that to make sure they stay in the title race coming in to the last weekend of the season.
Villarreal tied up the fourth Champions League place last weekend, and Celta leapfrogged Athletic Bilbao for fifth spot (which gives direct access to the Europa League) after they beat Málaga 1-0. The only goal of the game came on the half hour mark, Nolito combining with Iago Aspas and Orellana to turn the ball past Ochoa. Recio tested Rubén Blanco at the other end with a well struck free kick, but Ochoa had to be at his best to prevent Nolito from adding a second before the break. After the interval Blanco had to make a couple more saves from camacho, and Aspas got clear on a quick breakaway only for Ochoa to tip his shot round the post. Berizzo’s side probably have to get something from their visit to Atlético next weekend to hold on to that fifth place, but even if they don’t they will still have had their best season in many years.
Meanwhile Athletic Bilbao were held to a 0-0 draw at Las Palmas, and although their place in Europe is assured, they will still be pushing to get back above the Galicians next weekend to avoid having to play at the qualifying stage of the competition. The Basque side had by far the better chances throughout, Aduríz heading over the top and De Marcos hitting the bar with a cross-come-shot before the break. After the interval Raúl Lizoain had to save from Aduríz and Susaeta, and Bóveda turned a San José centre past the keeper only for referee Pérez Montero to disallow the goal for the positional offside of Aduríz. Iraizoz was only tested by a long shot from Willian José later on, but with their team already safe the home fans weren’t too bothered, and there was a standing ovation for the retiring Valerón when he was substituted near the end.
More excitement in the battle to avoid the remaining two relegation spots, and after today’s games only Getafe, Sporting Gijón and Rayo Vallecano can go down with Levante. Getafe and Sporting drew 1-1, a result which takes Juan Eduardo Esnáider’s side out of the bottom three, ahead of their opponents on the head-to-head record, and if they win at Betis next weekend they will be safe. The hosts had the better of the first half, Cuéllar pushing a Sarabia shot on to the upright and then making a couple of saves from Pedro León. However just four minutes in to the second half the visitors went ahead following a long throw-in, Carmona chesting the ball back for Sergio Alvarez to fire an acrobatic volley inside the near post. Soon afterwards though the Asturians were left with ten men when Nacho Cases picked up a second booking for a foul on Alvaro Medrán, and Pedro León hit the post with an inswinging corner before floating in a wide free kick which ex Sporting striker Scepovic headed past the visiting keeper.
Rayo Vallecano are now in next to bottom spot, a point below Getafe and Sporting, after they were beaten 2-1 by Real Sociedad. The locals went ahead early on, Oyarzabal squeezing a speculative shot past Juan Carlos after the defence failed to clear Granero’s corner. Rulli had to save from Embarba after that, and Pablo Hernández and Embarba fired shots just wide before the break, but soon after the restart half time substitute Jon Bautista made it two after Zurutuza and Oyarzabal combined down the left wing to set him up. Javi Guerra got one back with a long shot which left Rulli stranded with twenty minutes to go, and five minutes later Granero got himself sent off for a high kick on Trashorras, but it all came too late to save the result. Rayo now need to win against Levante next weekend, and hope that the two teams above them drop points, otherwise their five year fling in the top flight is over.
Granada (who have a superior head-to-head record against Getafe and Sporting) are sure of staying up however after they won 1-4 at regional rivals Sevilla. Having played a Europa League semi-final on Thursday night, and with two cup finals coming up, Unai Emery put out a line up packed with reserves and youngsters. And although Curro and Muñoz tested Andrés in the opening minutes, Isaac Cuenca put the visitors in front when he beat the offside trap to control El-Arabi’s pass and fire a shot past Beto on the stroke of half time. Midway through the second half Emery gave a debut to Diego González, and with his first touch of the ball he flicked Escudero’s volley past Beto to level the scores. However some five minutes later Babín headed in a Cuenca cross to restore the lead, and in the last few minutes El-Arabi and Cuenca added two more, the first from the penalty spot after Diogo fouled Miguel Lopes, and the second after intercepting a poor back pass from Diego González. .
Elsewhere Deportivo beat Villarreal 0-2 to secure their place in the top flight for next season. After Thursday night’s Europa League defeat at Liverpool, and with fourth spot already tied up, Marcelino too rested several key players. Both teams had chances early on, Fede Cartabia firing a shot against the upright and Leo Baptistao volleying a shot wide, but with just over half an hour gone Fayçal Fajr got on the end of Fede’s cross to curl a shot past Barbosa. Some twelve minutes in to the second half Lucas Pérez picked up a long clearance from defence to run on and make it two, and although Baptistao headed against the post at the other end, Luis Alberto could have increased the lead had Barbosa not got a hand to his shot later on.
Betis also made mathematically sure they survive for another year after they drew 1-1 at a rainy Eibar. Only an infinitely small range of possibilities would have sent the Andalusians down however, and with eight minutes to go to the break Rubén Castro got on the end of Joaquín’s cross to give them the lead. Adán had had to save from Ramís before that though, and it took a string of saves by the visiting keeper either side of half time from Mauro, Borja and Keko to maintain the lead. With a quarter of an hour to go Sergi Enrich did get a shot past him after Capa crossed in from the right, but after that both teams settled for a point. As it happened, scores elsewhere meant that Betis would have been safe even if they lost, but better safe than sorry. The results also came as a relief to Barcelona and Real Madrid, as they visit Granada and Deportivo respectively next weekend, and their hosts will now have little to play for. (08.05.16)