Last Sunday, I decided to go out for dinner. The football menu was a meaningless Levante – Barcelona, in which neither team had anything to play for, so it seemed the right Sunday to dine out.
Back from the restaurant and it’s 5-4 for Levante. At some point during the match, Barcelona trailed 5-1 (Valverde’s Barcelona, the most solid defensively in eons!), but scored three in a row and had chances to draw level. The lesson, as usual: football is always a priority, even when it seems it’s not.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Celta (13th) vs Levante (15th): X. (Sat, 13:00)
And to think that Levante was Depor’s only hope to avoid relegation just six weeks ago… The Levantinistas have gone 8W / 1D / 1D in their last 10 matches, a brutal sequence worthy of a title contender that could see them finish above Celta and close to the 10th position if they win on Saturday.
Their victory over Barcelona last Sunday capped a fine set of performances led by their socio-come-coach, Paco López, who explains his success with Levante in guru-like terms: “I just freed the players’ minds”. And free they feel indeed, as the Barcelona squad experienced last weekend.
Celta feel at the opposite end of Levante’s hype. In a marca survey , only 44% gave the team a pass, while 66% gave coach Unzue a failing grade. Forward Iago Aspas has publicly stated that he’ll stay as long as club management explains next year’s vision in detail, including a few reinforcements. If Aspas leave, who knows what could happen to Celta…
- Leganes (17th) vs Betis (6th): X. (Sat, 16:15)
Just when it looked as though this could be their best-ever season in the top flight, the hosts simply gave up. Four defeats and a draw later, it seems that they’ll be the worst side among the non-relegated, which considering their budget, isn’t too bad either. This will be the farewell of Garitano and Mantovani – which some crazy Marca journalist compared to Andres Iniesta and Fernando Torres retiring at once for the same club — so the Butarque stadium will be packed to say goodbye.
In Betis’ side, another farewell: striker Ruben Castro, who’s second in Betis’ alltime scorers ranking, one goal behind Poli Rincon. The Betis faithful have put some pressure on coach Setien so that Castro gets a rare start and enjoys the chance of at least getting even with Rincon, but the manager has not agreed to that yet. It would be a great farewell for the striker, who’s played for Betis in the Primera and Segunda División and helped the club a huge amount with his goals. This looks like another draw.
- UD Las Palmas (19th) vs Girona (11th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
Relegated two months ago, Las Palmas are dying to play this last match and finish this nightmarish season once and for all. The club has asked its followers for some support, but this looks like a record in low attendance, with even fewer spectators than the worst matches in the Segunda and Third Division in years past. Understandably so, one might add.
Girona, having won only five of the last 27 points, aren’t in great shape either. Add the long trip to the Canary Islands and the – hopefully – bits of pride left in the hosts’ conscience, this should finish with a home win.
- Málaga (20th) vs Getafe (8th): 2. (Sat- 18:30)
Ever since Malaga were relegated – and that is a long time ago – their players have suffered a healthy dose of ruthless abuse in most of their home matches. The crowd, obviously furious, has picked on the players and they have learned the lesson. One by one, most of the first team members have found excuses to disappear and avoid the punishment, to a stunning level: on Saturday, coach Jose Gonzalez had to fill more than half of the starting line-up with youth team players. Embarrassing stuff. If we take into account that coach Bordalas has stated that Getafe want to finish in eighth position no matter what, and that he’s taking his first-choice team, this one should be an easy win for the visitors.
- Sevilla (7th) vs Alavés (12th): X. (Sat- 18:30)
Some other Spanish teams have spoiled supporters, but Sevilla’s have reached dizzying heights. They’re organizing a protest against the president on Saturday, in a season in which they’ve reached the Copa del Rey final, eliminated Manchester United, given Bayern Munich a run for their money in the Champions League and qualified for the Europa League next season, although they’ll have to play the previous stage in the summer.
Does that justify such acrimony? I guess not, but fans can hardly forget those few matches in which their team conceded five: at home against archrivals Betis, in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona and in La Liga against Eibar, Atletico and Real Madrid. Those poor performances have stained the overall picture, which is a quite successful one.
In such an atmosphere, Alaves could well get a point at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Their performance during the second half of the season has been impeccable, and they could finish in the top ten with three points on Saturday, although that sounds like a bit of a stretch.
- Villarreal (5th) vs Real Madrid (3rd): 1. (Sat- 20:45)
At the beginning of the season, this sounded like a must win match for Real Madrid, assuming they’d still be in the fight for the La Liga title. Now it has no importance for the visitors, who will very likely field a second-string line-up. Villarreal want to finish a very solid season in the fifth spot, and to guarantee that they have to win the last one.
Real Madrid’s fans and the surrounding media sound more interested in the potential arrival of Neymar Jr than in the Champions League final or, of course, in this meaningless match of the season. Fortunately for them, Zidane keeps the focus on the 26th of May, and in a rare situation since he took over from Rafael Benitez, has every player available for the foreseeable future. He’ll probably give Daniel Carvajal and Cristiano Ronaldo a few minutes to get them back up to speed and will use the bench to put up a decent fight in Villarreal, but a few players in the hosts’ side want to impress to stay there next season, and that should be enough to defeat a soft, disinterested Real Madrid.
- Valencia (4th) vs Deportivo de La Coruña (18th): 1. (Sun- 12:00)
90% of the visitors’ squad is in talks with Primera División teams to avoid playing in the Segunda next season, so you can imagine they don’t have much focus on Sunday’s match. Easy win for Valencia, even though they’re not too bothered by this early Sunday kick-off either.
- Athletic de Bilbao (16th) vs Espanyol (14th): 1. (Sun- 16:15)
Both teams have underachieved in a very similar manner: a very inconsistent season with a few performances here and there that made many think they should have done better. Espanyol have defeated Barcelona (Copa del Rey), Real Madrid and Atletico, while Athletic are undefeated against Real Madrid (two draws). But that’s just not enough in such a long season, and this historic duo need to rethink what their plan is in the medium term. Espanyol will very likely lose Gerard Moreno, bound to go back to Villarreal, which is a brutal hit to their ability to score.
Athletic, the worst Basque team of the four in La Liga, have signed a few hard-working names for the next season, but they’ll have to find some more talent to recover their place in the top half of the standings. Their new coach, Eduardo Berizzo, knows La Liga well but has never worked within the sort of limitations which the Basque side have set for themselves.
With so many question marks, we’ll go for a “1”, assuming that the hosts want to bid coach Ziganda a fond farewell.
- Atlético de Madrid (2nd) vs Eibar (9th): 2. (Sun – 18:30)
Drunk with something more than success after their Europa League win and the celebrations that collapsed my neighbourhood on Friday evening, it will be hard for the hosts to focus on Sunday. The farewell to Fernando Torres, the gigantic offer made to Antoine Griezmann to stay at the Wanda, the bunch of names quoted to play for Atleti next season… Too many distractions on which Eibar should know how to capitalise. “It’s a good moment to play against Atleti”, said Eibar’s coach Jose Luis Mendilibar on Friday. Eibar have never defeated Atletico in La Liga, so it’s now or never.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Real Sociedad (10th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
Having won the title with such ease, the Barcelonistas’ mind is now on other, more pressing issues than Sunday’s entertainment against Real Sociedad. “How – the hell – can we sell Andre Gomes without taking a huge loss?”, “How much should we pay for Sevilla’s Leglet?”, “Will Iniesta go to China or Japan?”… Meanwhile, Real Sociedad keep talking to Asier Garitano, who’s already announced that he’ll leave Leganes and try to get some guarantees about the players he’ll have to manage next season. Anything could happen in this match, but we´ll play it safe and vouch for the champions.
Last week: 5/10 (50%)
Season: 122/270 (45%)
- Celta (12th) vs Levante (16th):
- Leganes (17th) vs Betis (5th):
- UD Las Palmas (19th) vs Girona (9th):
- Málaga (20th) vs Getafe (8th):
- Sevilla (7th) vs Alavés (13th):
- Villarreal (6th) vs Real Madrid (3rd):
- Valencia (4th) vs Deportivo de La Coruña (18th):
- Athletic de Bilbao (14th) vs Espanyol (15th):
- Atlético de Madrid (2nd) vs Eibar (10th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Real Sociedad (11th):