I know well I’m the Latin half of this blog, and therefore I should defend logic such as “The ref must adapt his decisions to the moment of match, the behavior of the teams and the specific players” or “That team deserved to get to extra time, so why blowing the whistle for that late, late penalty against them”, or even “How can you show two yellows to the same player in the first nine minutes of a match?”.
However, I majored in Law. That took away a sizeable amount of my tolerance towards a “flexible” application of the law. And no matter whether that favours or kills my team on one specific play, I do believe that the ref should be consistent in his/her decisions, treating both sides equally and applying the rules regardless of the participants, the moment of the match or the impact of his / her previous decisions. Also, I do believe that players should take more responsibility for their acts. That “flexible” application of the law is very often the excuse of a player who made a horrible decision during a key moment of the match.
I’ll tackle – excuse the pun – the Vrsaljko issue, one of huge pain to the Atleticos, although an important motivator for their heroic night at the Emirates. The discussion must be whether or not he deserved each yellow, and not if the ref was harsh for booking him twice so early in the match or in such a short span of time. In this case, Vrsaljko’s ill-advised decision-making also deserves some consideration.
Along the same lines, the discussion should also be whether Simeone had done enough to be sent off – Cholo mentioned repeatedly the ref’s mother after he had been sent off, and before that he was vehemently protesting, but a straight red? – not if it was part of the same conspiracy from the French ref to leave Atletico beheaded and help Arsene Wenger in his last few matches with the Gunners.
Yes, some of those flexible decisions, taken “for the good of the game”, would improve certain matches. However, they would be extremely unfair to one of the sides, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s mine or yours. Dura lex, sed lex, said the Romans who, after all, did quite a lot for us.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Levante (17th) vs Sevilla (7th): 1. (Fri, 21:00)
Levante are this year’s Typical-Team-That-Wakes-Up-Ten-Matches-Before-the-End-of-the Season. In their last eight, 5 wins, 2 draws and one loss (against Atletico de Madrid) means that in those matches they got almost the same points as they did in the previous 26.
In the opposite corner, Sevilla haven’t won in their last seven official matches, including the brutal thrashing in the Copa del Rey final at the hands of Barcelona. The Sevillistas have confirmed Vincenzo Montella as their coach next season, but fired their Sports Director last Monday. It’s hard to see how Montella can turn this around as Sevilla keep falling further away from the top six. The team looks demoralized and he seems unable to make them react. The invigorated Levante will guarantee another season in La Liga with an easy home win.
- Espanyol (16th) vs UD Las Palmas (19th): 1. (Sat, 13:00)
While Quique Sanchez Flores’s firing has rejuvenated Espanyol, who won at Girona last weekend, Las Palmas have decided to stick to Paco Jemez until the end of the season, even if that means excruciating – for the club – press conferences before each match during which the coach bitches about the club’s management, his squad or the Canary Islands, but never hints at the least sign of self-criticism. The team’s home performance last weekend against Alaves (lost 0-4) must have been one of the most unedifying sights that their fans have had to endure in years.
Rumour has it that the hosts are seriously considering selling their forward Gerard Moreno in the summer. The kid has performed amazingly well this season, even in a side that has struggled to maintain their intensity for long spells. I can’t see why any Espanyol supporter would get season tickets in the summer if Moreno is not there…
- Real Sociedad (11th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (14th): 1. (Sat- 16:15)
Basque derby alert! Phil will indeed review what happens at Anoeta on Saturday, but he must be disappointed after his lads lost to the relegated Malaga last Saturday. Embarrassing indeed. However, they get the chance of erasing that from their fans’ memories with a win over their archrivals, emptying their lungs upon Iñigo Martinez’s comeback to his home stadium, now that he plays for a ‘big team’.
Martinez’s controversy aside, it’s been a poor season for these two Basque teams. In fact, last weekend both sides embarrassed their fan bases, in Athletic’s case with a 3-1 defeat at home to 17th place Levante.
One of the consequences of modern football in Spain is that Basque teams don’t play the way they’re supposed to anymore. If you’re not familiar with the clichés, teams from the Basque country theoretically play a physical brand of football that demands effort from their squad members, a “won’t give up” mentality, and a style of game that reminds of the more classic English sides in their best moments.
That approach might not be great to the eyes of many, but it guaranteed a certain level of consistency. Athletic and Real Sociedad were hard to beat, even when they were not inspired. That’s gone now, and this season is excellent proof: while both squads have enjoyed a few great football afternoons, they have also played awful matches and have been thoroughly beaten by clearly inferior opposition.
Only three points separate them in the standings, but Real Sociedad now seem to be in a better place than Athletic: new coach, looking forward to a new season with a couple of new signings, while the visitors don’t really know whether or not Ziganda will stay, or what prospects could improve their level in the off-season. “1” it is.
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Leganes (15th): X. (Sat- 18:30)
Sandwiched in the middle of the Champions League semi-finals, this match still should mean something to Real Madrid, as long as they want to keep their third spot in the standings. But it’s foreseeable that Zinedine Zidane will field largely a reserve team, with the likes of Vallejo, Theo, Kovacic and perhaps even Ceballos and Mayoral featuring prominently in the match.
I know this is a long shot, but Leganes did play well at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey, and if they are going to get a point in this stadium in their history, this is their chance.
The hosts will focus on Tuesday, after a hard-working, tenacious win in Munich, and one can’t blame them for that.
- Villarreal (6th) vs Celta (10th): 1. (Sat – 20:45)
Brais Mendes, Celta’s latest promising talent, comes back to Villarreal, where he played a few years as a kid. These two teams probably rank among the top five in youth teams in Spain, which is saying quite a lot. But back to Mendes. “We can still make it to a Europa League spot”, he said on Thursday. The fact is that a couple of wins in a row would get them really close to that objective, but they need to do that without the injured Iago Aspas, which sounds quite far-fetched. Villarreal haven’t been exactly solid this season, and their calendar is tough – Valencia and Real Madrid will pay them a visit before the end of the season – but they have enough to win on Saturday and keep going for another weekend.
- Getafe (8th) vs Girona (9th): 1. (Sun – 12:00)
These are indeed the two most pleasant surprises of the season. This could have been an almost decisive match in the relegation struggle, but both sides have performed so well all year that they only need a final push to finish in the upper half of the standings, and even fight for the sixth / seventh spot if things go well.
Apparently, Girona’s coach Pablo Machín, one of the keys of such an outstanding season for the debutants, is inclined to stay at the club, after a few weeks in which he seemed tempted by offers from abroad. This should get his team’s focus back on the pitch, and they do have the upper hand over Getafe, club they have defeated in their last three meetings.
The surprise comes from the hosts. There will be supporters in the stands of the Coliseum Alfonso Perez! The club has made every effort imaginable to fill the usually empty stadium: low prices, marketing campaign, free buses for their supporters associations in other cities… I hope the hosts can keep their focus with so many fans watching them at home, but that must work on their favour.
- Alavés (13th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd): 1. (Sun – 16:15)
Between the short squad, the distance in points vs Barcelona and the extraordinary demands of the Europa League, Atleti are indeed running on fumes. If we also factor in Fernando Torres’ farewell and its emotional component every weekend – starts to feel like Kobe Bryant’s last season – I can’t see them getting a single point in Vitoria. Their heroic performance in London got them a result, but they still need another huge effort next Thursday, and Diego Simeone will save his top players for that.
This is great news for Alaves, with a more than decent chance to finish the season as the highest-placed Basque side, an unprecedented achievement that now seems close enough, thanks to coach Abelardo.
- Valencia (4th) vs Eibar (12th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
This is simple: Valencia still look hungry, Eibar don’t. A few Valencianistas have one huge motivation to play well, as the World Cup is close, and they want to make it to their various national sides. Eibar, on the contrary, can take things easy and prepare for the next season after a more than decent year.
The most shocking news of the week have to do with Marcelino, the hosts’ coach. Asked whether he saw himself for a long time in Valencia, he simply answered: “No”. Given his impressive role in the team’s resurgence, it felt like a bucket of cold water thrown on the supporters when they least expected it.
The fact is that Marcelino knows Peter Lim & co too well, and is obviously aware that, in the event of losing Goncalo Guedes and a couple of other players, he won’t last long when the team starts to struggle.
- Deportivo de La Coruña (18th) vs Barcelona (1st): 2. (Sun – 20:45)
Barcelona will win this La Liga title in La Coruña, just a couple of days after Andres Iniesta announced the end of his phenomenal career with the Azulgrana. Bound to China to make a ton of cash and sell his wine, Iniesta has given so much to Barcelona and Spanish football in general that not even a single soul, even the most Madridistas, could but feel moved when the maestro shed a few tears in the press conference. The whole team, with the bizarre absences of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, were there to support his captain. One of those moments when a sad story – time goes by for all of us – almost becomes a feelgood one, because of the player and his teammates.
If Barcelona wins, and this is the result this column bets on, Deportivo could also end up relegated in this same match. Again, sadness and joy in the same event, in this case split by team. It’s a shame that Seedorf did not arrive earlier, but his calm approach, his openness with the fans and his incisive decision-making could have worked out with a few more weeks… and without Levante’s stunning reaction.
The match won’t be pretty, but Valverde’s subs have a lot to prove and one can imagine Ousmane Dembele finally wreaking havoc in La Liga.
- Betis (5th) vs Málaga (20th): 1. (Mon – 21:00)
Another Monday evening, another Betis match to watch while you ponder life and existence, usually with that pessimistic touch that only the beginnings of the week can impose on your contingent being.
Coach Setien has made his mark on the hosts, entertaining and highly enjoyable now. Indeed, Betis have a lot to celebrate, as they look bound to finish above neighbours Sevilla for the first time in ages, and they indeed know how to exercise those bragging rights. At this point, Malaga would love to spoil Betis’ party, but they just don’t have what it takes.
Last week: 2/8 (25%).
Season: 110/238 (46%)
- Levante (17th) vs Sevilla (7th):
- Espanyol (16th) vs UD Las Palmas (19th):
- Real Sociedad (11th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (14th):
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Leganes (15th):
- Villarreal (6th) vs Celta (10th):
- Getafe (8th) vs Girona (9th):
- Alavés (13th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd):
- Valencia (4th) vs Eibar (12th):
- Deportivo de La Coruña (18th) vs Barcelona (1st):
- Betis (5th) vs Málaga (20th):