The most important moment of the weekend in terms of the La Liga title was Denis Suarez’s move in Barcelona’s second goal, the one that meant the Azulgrana got a point in Sevilla. He simply got out of the way when he saw Lionel Messi arriving, hungry to score. That moment tells a story of this Barcelona season: the team deferring to Messi’s higher skill, and the Argentinean delivering what’s needed for his side to win, even if he only had just over half an hour to do so.
Not that there was any hope for Atletico anyway. Barcelona not only have a nine-point advantage after that draw and the Rojiblancos’ win against Deportivo, but also own the tie-breaker. Any hope of a real title fight in the last few weeks has long gone.
However, Sevilla decided to forget about their very near future – the quarterfinals tie against Bayern Munich – and played quite hard against Ernesto Valverde‘s team, a courageous decision that unveiled the worst Barcelona side of the season. They were 2-0 down when Messi joined the match and that could have been easily trailing by three or four goals.
Montella’s side exploited the few weaknesses of a very strong team with their physical approach in midfield and their high press, one that generated surprising passing mistakes among Barcelona’s back four and their defensive midfielders. Once Sevilla had an advantage, their counter also exposed Barcelona’s tiredness and lack of speed tracking back.
But the hosts did not expect Messi to turn things around that quickly coming off the bench, and the fact that they conceded in consecutive minutes right before the final whistle tells the story of a creative, but defensively limited side which could have been eliminated of the Champions League had ManU pressed them as hard as other teams have this season.
Injuries and Argentina aside, Messi is in astonishing shape. His team mates know where and how to find him, and especially, when to get out of the way when he’s inspired. That’s the minimum you can do to get the most out of the world’s best.
Right behind them in the standings, Atletico defeated the lowly Depor, who played a decent match and, as usual, lacked any kind of luck. Gameiro scored from the spot to give Atletico their ninth 1-0 win of the season, as they keep the second position and, even if a bit delusional, they still dream of a couple of Barcelona slip-ups in the next couple of weeks. Again, not even that would be enough.
Real Madrid and Valencia kept their fight over the third position alive for another week. With a team plagued of reserves – yes, Real Madrid can call the extremely expensive Gareth Bale a reserve at this point – the Madridistas defeated Las Palmas with an easy 3-0 win in which Karim Benzema scored from the penalty spot and Bale added a brace.
“Bale buys his ticket for Turin”, Marca titled on Sunday, assuming that the performance was enough for the Welshman to start against Juventus on Tuesday. He won’t.
Just like this scribe predicted on Friday, Rodrigo made the difference between Valencia and Leganes. Seems like a lucky gamble, but the fact is that the Spanish-Brazilian forward can do no wrong at this point, and keeps adding points for his candidacy to start for Spain in Russia. Valencia’s neighbours, Levante, drew again against all odds, this time in Girona, and with 8 point in their last four matches they now look free of trouble, something almost shocking having in mind how poor they’re been for long spells of the season.
But probably the most surprising result of the season was Malaga’s win, the first in 15 weeks, in this case against 5th spot Villarreal. Again, this column warned you on Friday, but the fact is that very few could expect for the lowly Malacitanos to put together enough motivation and get three points that, late as they are, can get them going for a more decent end of the season.
Looking at the standings, there’s only minor details to sort out in the eight weeks left this season. Winner and relegated sides look fair and more than settled, and only secondary questions such as who makes the Champions League or the Europa League tournaments could change significantly with those 24 points left.
The focus now shifts towards the European competitions. Paradoxically, Zidane and Real Madrid seem in the best time of the season to face the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but Tottenham can very well explain how Juventus only need two minutes to get you a ticket back home. Real Madrid’s French coach will very likely field a 4-4-2 with Lucas Vazquez and Asensio, while the doubt is which midfielder will he left out. Cristiano and Benzema look like safe bets up front.
Barcelona, with an apparently less demanding rival in Roma, will enjoy the presence of Messi for all 90 minutes and the comeback of Sergio Busquets. Hard to see them not getting a result against the Romans, even if they looked too tired in Sevilla. The Sevillanos, with a huge opponent in Bayern, should be happy to still be in the tournament, and anything they get against the Germans will be extraordinary.
While Phil finds his way among castles in the beautiful Scotland, this scribe will write at least another piece more – a Real Madrid match report for the Juve match – before the published author comes back. Watch this space.