There’s pretty much nothing left to play for in La Liga. The winner, the Champions League spots, the Europa League spots and the relegated sides won’t change much from now until the end of the season. But there’s more than rankings in football, right? Pride, bragging rights, TV money…
This set of fixtures, when all seems over, brings us two regional derbies, a few quite traditional matches in their own right and a full-blown Clasico. So make the most of this moment, Spanish Football Fan: take advantage of the lack of motive to calculate the potential implications of each result – there are pretty much none – and simply enjoy the football. There won’t be many chances for such hedonistic contemplation of the sport in the future.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Sevilla (8th) vs Real Sociedad (10th): 1. (Fri, 21:00)
On Thursday last week, I devoted 15 minutes of my precious, scarce, coveted time to listening to a radio interview with Sevilla’s president, José Castro. An affable guy, he explained his frustration with the outcome and especially the performance of Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final – his team lost 5-0 against Barcelona – but went on to show his total support of Vincenzo Montella. “We’ve spent three hours going into detail about the new season, the signings, the players we should let go… We’re really optimistic”.
Of course, the following evening Sevilla lost to Levante – as predicted here, one of the easiest calls of the season – and Castro duly fired Montella. In summary, they lost three hours discussing next season and I lost 15 minutes listening to Castro’s BS. All this noise to bring back none other than Joaquin Caparros to Sevilla’s bench, a diehard supporter of the club who coached the team at the very beginning of their successful phase, between 2000 and 2005.
To most Sevilla supporters, seeing Caparros back must feel like going back to your cute, but provincial high-school sweetheart, after you’ve gone through a long sequence of those partners with whom you could sign one of those very common agreements among celebrities and people of wealth (yes, I’m quoting someone else). Even if he brings his usual energy, his sophistication in terms of tactics is quite limited, and I’ll be surprised if this is what Sevilla need at this point.
I can see Caparros getting all the stadium back into business and Sevilla defeating the hard-to-predict Real Sociedad. The fun will come in the next two matches, against Real Madrid and… Betis!
- Girona (9th) vs Eibar (12th): X. (Sat, 13:00)
The first, important news: Jose Luis Mendilibar is staying with Eibar, and has convinced the club to give him all kind of decision rights over signings and firings. He’s got plenty of work ahead of him in the summer, as only 15 players of the current squad have a contract that lasts beyond this season, while another eight players loaned out will come back to the club. Tons of decisions to be made, and a couple of matches to get more inputs for those personnel calls.
Like Eibar, overachievers Girona will keep their coach next season. Pablo Machin, the quiet man from the extremely quiet Soria, deserves another go at doing his thing with the good base the club has plus the reinforcements coming from Manchester. Both teams have the same record in their last five – 1W / 1D / 3L – a telling sign that they’re both happy with their season and dying for this one to end. A draw is on the cards.
- Athletic de Bilbao (14th) vs Betis (5th): 2. (Sat- 16:15)
This was a very traditional match during Betis’ golden years. However, don’t expect much for this one. The hosts will miss Raúl García and De Marcos, both suspended, which amounts to 90% of their bite and 50% of their goals. Muniain should enjoy his first start after his terrible injury and the long recovery that ensued, but that does not sound like much when Betis arrive with all their might. Seven wins and one draw in their last eight, and only one goal conceded. They have guaranteed their Europa League spot, but something tells me that coach Quite Setien isn’t happy with that and will try to finish the season in style. A victory at the San Mames is indeed a reason for pride.
- Celta (11th) vs Deportivo de La Coruña (18th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
The Galicia derby isn’t as exciting this season, with Depor already relegated and Celta suffering the consequences of Aspas’ injury. After the visitors’ fruitless efforts during the last couple of months, one doubts they’ll have enough in the tank and in their minds to keep going in Vigo. Easy home win, while the club decides on a replacement for Juan Carlos Unzué, who won’t come back after the summer. The name of Asier Garitano, Leganes’ coach, sounds like a solid option.
- Villarreal (6th) vs Valencia (4th): 2. (Sat – 20:45)
The second derby of the weekend is the top one in the Comunidad Valenciana (sorry, Levante, Castellon, Hércules and Elche, but Villarreal have earned this right over the last two decades). Despite a few hesitant performances in March, the hosts have recovered their breath, and the last two consecutive wins almost guaranteed them a Europa League spot. Valencia can’t say the same, as they haven’t won in their last four, but they had done their homework well in advance.
This match has another, bigger element of morbo than the derby itself, in fact. It’s the chance for coach Marcelino’s to exact revenge over Villarreal, who fired him right before the pre-qualifying stage of the Champions League. The reasons were never publicly stated, and I won’t speculate here, but the fact is that after Marcelino was shown the door, the team could not defeat Monaco and felt pretty much beheaded in that playoff. If Valencia win on Saturday, they will mathematically qualify for the Champions League next season while defeating Villarreal.
No team is in real risk of losing their respective spots, so the Marcelino factor will own the spotlight. The visitors have the greater motivation for this one. Btw, Villarreal could sign Espanyol’s Gerard Moreno (15 goals so far). It’d be a great, great steal.
- Málaga (20th) vs Alavés (13th): 1. (Sun – 12:00)
This is imposible to predict. Both teams will field their second-string sides, as they’re trying to decide who they will keep for next season. In the case of Malaga, already relegated, that implies a huge fire-sale and a bet on young home talent, something they hadn’t done at any point in the season. Alaves are simply testing players that hadn’t had many chances to see if they can sell them for a profit. Their goalie Pacheco, an expert penalty stopper, has caught the eyes of a few teams, so he could leave right when the transfer window opens. I’ll go for a 1, as I expect the home side to play with slightly more interest than the visitors.
- Atlético de Madrid (2nd) vs Espanyol (15th): 1. (Sun – 16:15)
Atleti are going to Lyon! With a trademark demonstration of effort over 180 minutes, they eliminated Arsenal, who never managed to understand that you need a certain level of steel with your skill if you want to defeat the Rojiblancos. The final, on the 16th of May, is almost here, so I expect Simeone to rest as many players as he can, bearing in mind that he sold almost all of his bench in December. We’ll see what he comes up with.
Espanyol could not care less what happens until the season is over. Last weekend they managed to draw with Las Palmas at home, something that on the pitch looked even worse than it sounds. Even Atleti’s youth team would defeat them at this point.
- UD Las Palmas (19th) vs Getafe (7th): 2. (Sun – 18:30)
Getafe smells Europa League football, Las Palmas stinks not only of Segunda División, but of a sale to a millionaire who will turn the team into another Malaga. The fact is that club management is responsible for Las Palmas’ terrible season, as their decisions in signings and sales have depleted the squad to an unconscionable level. In the meantime, Getafe keep getting one point here and three there, and can touch Europe with their hands if they win in Gran Canaria. They probably will.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Real Madrid (3rd): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
This is a clear “1”, and the suspicious reader should not see any hint of reverse jinxing in this decision. Real Madrid, tired after an extremely stressful Champions League semifinal, will want to avoid a thrashing, but won’t have their focus on a victory in such a demanding scenario. Of course, Barcelona would love to seal their La Liga title with a win over their arch-rivals, bid their farewell to Andres Iniesta in style and keep the unbeaten streak up and running.
Zidane will rotate a few players, but he won’t turn the match into a joke – which some Real Madrid fans were suggesting, assuming that the three points are meaningless and that Theo, Vallejo and Mayoral should enjoy themselves with a few runs at the Camp Nou. A Barcelona – Real Madrid is never meaningless and Zidane knows that well, especially when the Azulgranas won 3-0 at the Bernabeu this season.
The question is how far Valverde will go with his own rotations. He hasn’t been too keen on them during long stretches of the season, but it now feels like the right moment to mix it up and see what some squad members can do. I’d be surprised if Messi or Suarez can devote much more time to these domestic affairs rather than keeping themselves fit for the World Cup, and that could be the case of other Barcelona players as well. I foresee quite few goals and uncommon scorers.
- Leganes (16th) vs Levante (17th): X. (Mon – 21:00)
Another match in which both teams play to enjoy themselves after a tough, but entertaining season. An X, although I would not be surprised if the on-fire Jose Luis Morales gives the visitors another win.
Last week: 5/10 (50%).
Season: 115/248 (46%)
- Sevilla (8th) vs Real Sociedad (10th):
- Girona (9th) vs Eibar (12th):
- Athletic de Bilbao (14th) vs Betis (5th):
- Celta (11th) vs Deportivo de La Coruña (18th):
- Villarreal (6th) vs Valencia (4th):
- Málaga (20th) vs Alavés (13th):
- Atlético de Madrid (2nd) vs Espanyol (15th):
- UD Las Palmas (19th) vs Getafe (7th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Real Madrid (3rd):
- Leganes (16th) vs Levante (17th):