So we finally got to the last two weekends of the tournament. It’s probably the only moment of the season in which this scribe can think ahead and keep in mind the fixtures of the current week and those of the following week as well, in an impressive display of mental agility.
Two main question marks remain unanswered: who will be the third relegated side and who will occupy the fourth spot and therefore taste Champions League football next season? For the former topic, the result of Girona vs Levante will be huge. For the second, you’ll have to keep an eye on three different matches at the same time, those with Getafe, Valencia and Sevilla.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the wave of pro-Premier League football after four of its teams made it to the final of both continental competitions. I’ll be short: with this success, English football will draw level with Real Madrid in Champions League titles. That’s all for now.
Shall we? Let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win. New gimmick: we’ll highlight must-watch matches in red, and no, they’re not Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético ones, at least this week.
- Athletic de Bilbao (7th) vs Celta (14th): 2. (Sun, 18:30)
Being in the 14th spot, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Celta are in the clear, but you’d be wrong. Their advantage over 18th spot Girona is just three points, so they need a result in San Mames. The hosts’ 7th spot would give them access to the qualifying round of the Europa League, which means playing in the summer. Having watched them play lately, some evil-minded media have insinuated that the players would rather finish eighth, which has prompted strong public statements by Raul Garcia and Ibai Gomez.
In any case, one team play for their lives and the other to have their holidays cancelled. I’m favouring Aspas & co here, expecting a great performance by Brais Mendez.
- Atlético de Madrid (2nd) vs Sevilla (6th): X. (Sun, 18:30)
Diego Godin will leave in the summer, Atletico announced this week. Of course, very few players have embodied the mindset that Simeone wanted to instil in this squad, and his memorable defensive performances, together with his unforgettable goal at the Camp Nou, give him the status of icon among the Rojiblancos. The home side need a draw to confirm their second position and their status as Madrid’s top team this season, while the visitors must get all three points if they want to keep their Champions League hopes alive.
Of course, bidding Godin farewell with a win is enough motivation, as this will be his last home match for Atleti. But Sevilla’s incentives are even higher. A non-committal draw, perhaps. Do pay attention to the way Atletico hosts treat Griezmann. Could be ugly.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Getafe (4th): 2. (Sun, 18:30)
Two weeks ago, this did not look like an interesting match at all. Now it’s a walking bomb, as the pressure on Valverde is beyond anything imaginable for the outright winning coach of the tournament, and Getafe have kept their rivals in check and have a more than decent shot to play in the top continental competition next season.
A lot has been written about Barcelona’s second consecutive collapse in Europe, and of course that Valverde must shoulder part of the blame. But if last season I thought he was the biggest culprit, this time I can’t understand that such a senior group of players play in such a shy manner, making mistakes that the reserves of the reserves would never made. The importance we give to one line-up decision – Sergi Roberto at fullback, for instance – was put on their very relative terms by a Liverpool side that did not have two of their best players and that even under those circumstances played like all eleven members of the squad deserved to start. If we have to judge by the comments to the first leg of that tie, Ter Stegen was the world’s best keeper, Pique the best centre-back and Messi the best forward, so what happened from one week to the next for the tables to turn that drastically?
My point? With that line-up and a 3-0 advantage, only an extremely clumsy performance by the players would give Liverpool chances to make it to the final. And if you don’t agree, explain to me how Liverpool’s 4th goal is possible or has anything to do with the coach. You don’t see that lack of focus in professional football at any level, let alone in the semis of the Champions League. On a side note, as a Real Madrid fan it was great to see Suarez complain and ask for that goal to be disallowed. Poetic justice.
I do know that Messi loves killing Getafe – and all other LaLiga teams as well, to be fair – but first, I’m not sure he’ll start and second, the atmosphere at the Camp Nou could be toxic, again, when the team has won La Liga with ease. This Geta is as tough as they get, so I can imagine Mata and Molina enjoying a few chances in front of Cilessen, and a huge amount of noise if Barcelona don’t score early.
- Girona (18th) vs Levante (16th): X. (Sun, 18:30)
This is the tensest match of the weekend, and the one I will watch unless fans start throwing pigs’ heads onto the pitch in Barcelona. Both sides play for their lives, separated by just three points and with one match left: Girona will travel to Alava and Levante will host Atletico, both opponents having no incentives to give their all in those final games of the season.
Levante could do with a draw, so I expect them to resort to their old Levante ways: slow match, plenty of fouls and interruptions, and commander José Luis Morales trying to catch Girona on the break.
The hosts’s slump is simply brutal. Seems like their victory at the Santiago Bernabeu made them forget that this is about staying up, not about collecting famous wins.
I’ll go with an X, but I’m quite tempted to put some cash on Levante. Not one for the faint of heart.
- Leganés (12th) vs Espanyol (9th): 2. (Sun, 18:30)
This would seem the least interesting match of the weekend, but Espanyol do have some interest in winning, as they could still catch Athletic and therefore the 7th spot that gives access to the Europa League summer qualifiers. And why not favour Espanyol? Seven consecutive matches unbeaten, Sergi Darder becoming the new Joan Verdu and Wu Lei showing he has everything to become a star – those seem enough reasons to defeat the courageous but limited Leganes.
It’s been a fantastic season for the home side, by the way. If they can keep the core of this team, they could become one of the pleasant surprises of the upcoming season.
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Valladolid (17th): X. (Sun, 18:30)
Well aware that plenty of Valladolid fans live in Madrid and that the commute from Valladolid to Madrid is a 1 ½ hour high speed train, Rayo have doubled the price for the tickets for this one. Ugly stuff.
As you know, Rayo have nothing to play for, while Valladolid need three points and could be safe at the end of the weekend if they win in Vallecas. However, one is quite sure that the hosts will have received some incentives from other struggling sides that have an obvious interest in this match ending in a 1. That is the way things work around here and it’s not going to be different this time.
Valladolid are the lowest scoring side of the tournament, so I can see this finishing in a stalemate. Atmosphere should be fun, though.
- Betis (13th) vs Huesca (20th): 1. (Sun, 18:30)
This is the third match in a row in which I believe Setien could lose his job, which means that he will not. Rumour has it that Betis have spoken to Getafe’s coach Bordalas, which should be the most bizarre change of footballing approach since Real Madrid fired Pellegrini to sign Mou. Even if they keep Setien, seems that this could be a farewell match for many of Betis’ players. That type of environment rarely brings good performances, but in this case the opposition has even less reasons to feel motivated. This is an easy home win.
- Real Sociedad (8th) vs Real Madrid (3rd): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
While the female team of Real Sociedad keep winning – they won the Copa de la Reina last evening – their male counterparts still have a glimmer of hope to get to the 7th place. They need to defeat Real Madrid on Sunday and Espanyol the following Saturday, which sounds feasible. That said, this season has been their worst at home since they came back from the Segunda in 2010: six wins, six draws and six losses, which adds up to 24 points. Judging by how Real Madrid have played of late, they should finish with 27.
The hosts did make a great move in the coaching market and “stole” Xabi Alonso from Real Madrid’s youth teams to coach in San Sebastian, his city and the place where he wants to live again after many years in Liverpool, Madrid, Munich and Madrid again.
Real Madrid’s painful end to the season has become one of those soap operas in which everyone knows what’s going to happen, but those events take ages to finally occur. We now know that Ceballos, Llorente and Bale won’t play for Real Madrid next season. In the case of Bale, it’s obvious that he won’t play again for the club, as he didn’t even make the 23-man list to go to beautiful San Sebastian.
This scribe believes that Llorente could have been useful next season, and that the way the club is treating Bale is not up to his contribution in a historical sequence of European victories, but what do I know? Zidane must have something to do with all this, and when you bring him back, those decisions are already written on the wall.
The noise from the Madrid media paints a complex summer in Madrid. The club has started to question some of Zidane’s priorities in terms of signings, and we know well that the French manager will only stay on his terms. A new defeat in San Sebastian won’t help clear the air.
- Valencia (5th) vs Alavés (10th): 2. (Sun, 18:30)
My pick may surprise you, but I just can’t see Valencia recovering from the shock of their former coach Unai Emery demolishing them at home in the semis of the Europa League. Coach Marcelino, a very gifted manager, is indeed a very poor loser and found plenty of excuses to explain the terrible result, but the fact is that Arsenal looked better coached. We’ll never hear him say that.
Alaves will pick up the spoils. This is the end of Valencia’s push for the Champions League next season.
- Villarreal (15th) vs Eibar (11th): 1. (Sun, 18:30)
Like Celta and Levante, Villarreal still aren’t safe, despite a number of recent miracles that have improved their position. In any case, they should defeat Eibar easily and breathe for the first time this year. Next season will be better.
Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 122/300 (40%)
- Athletic de Bilbao (7th) vs Celta (14th):
- Atlético de Madrid (2nd) vs Sevilla (6th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Getafe (4th):
- Girona (18th) vs Levante (16th):
- Leganés (12th) vs Espanyol (9th):
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Valladolid (17th):
- Betis (13th) vs Huesca (20th):
- Real Sociedad (8th) vs Real Madrid (3rd):
- Valencia (5th) vs Alavés (10th):
- Villarreal (15th) vs Eibar (11th):