‘twas the penultimate game of the season, with everyone kicking off at 18.30 on Sunday – and ‘twas fun for some, less for others. This particular week of the league season is always the toughest, because at the nether end of the table there is usually a single side left who can still escape relegation and two sides who can be sucked into it, whilst up top the 4th Champions League spot tends to be the main focus. The trap-door opens or the dreams are quashed.
Thus Getafe visited Barcelona in strange circumstances, strange in the sense that they were still very much in the hunt for that very 4th spot but also because their opponents were still recovering from that traumatic evening at Anfield. It was never going to be a great match, but Getafe would probably have preferred Barcelona to have won in Liverpool and thus spared them the situation where their opponents were obliged to come out and ‘dar la cara’ (show their faces) as the Spanish say. Barça sort of did, and won 2-0, but that was about as much as could be expected, in the circumstances. Unfortunately for Getafe, Valencia beat Alaves 3-1, as expected, and overtook them.
Of course, what happens below tends to ripple waves upwards. Valladolid’s dramatic 1-2 win at Rayo, in the weekend’s dog-eat-dead dog affair, means that they are now safe and can relax next weekend at home to……Valencia. Getafe, meanwhile, host Villarreal, as safe now as a submarine returned to port and floating above the surface. It’s looking good for Valencia, but you never know. They’ve certainly had a good season, with the cup final still to come, but a Champs League place would certainly ice their cake or guano their bat-cave, whichever metaphor you prefer. Meanwhile, Sevilla’s meritorious draw at Atlético means that they still have a chance of nicking that 4th spot, should the unthinkable happen for Getafe and Valencia. To be honest, after such an amazing week of football, you start to think that absolutely anything could happen.
Sevilla host Athletic next weekend, which will be interesting. If Athletic win it, they’d take the 6th slot, meaning they wouldn’t be obliged to cut their summer holidays short for the Europa qualifiers, but with the temptation of that Champs League spot you can’t see them blowing it. Let’s see what Eduardo makes of it all in his quiniela next week, but the scene is further complicated by Espanyol v Real Sociedad, because Sociedad can finish in the 7th (Europa) spot if neighbours Athletic lose. Remarkably, so can Espanyol, by virtue of their head-to-head with Athletic, so it makes for baffling stuff. Borja Iglesias scored twice at Leganés to open up this final-game riddle, and now has 17 for the season which means he’s threatening Iago Aspas for the Zarra Trophy, awarded to the top-scoring Spanish player in La Liga. Not bad for his first season in the top flight. Other sides with greater resources have taken note, as tends to happen.
Down at the bottom again, Girona continued their awful home form by losing at home to Levante – and practically relegating themselves in the process. It’s a surprising turn of events, and not one that was predicted by many punters at the start of the season. They’re not mathematically down but would need to win at least 0-3 at Alavés next weekend and hope Celta lose at home to Rayo by the same score. Celta, it would seem, will escape by the skin of their teeth, and it makes you wonder how Girona would be feeling this weekend had Barcelona not put out their ‘B’ side at Celta a fortnight ago. I know, I know…it’s a season-long thing, blah blah, and if you’re in a mess then it’s your fault and nobody else’s, but you can’t help but think that the game has adulterated the scene somewhat. Something ain’t right about it, whatever your colours.
However, Girona only won three home games all season, inexplicably. Their coach Eusebio is now in a tricky situation, having left Real Sociedad with his tail between his legs too. He’s unlikely to continue in the 2nd Division but more seriously for Girona will be their relationship with Manchester City, their mother ship through the City Football Group. They may decide that the club is no longer worth investing in, with loaned-out players no longer able to cut their teeth at the highest level. Granell, Pere Pons, Jaunpe, Portu and Mojica are all decent players, and unlikely to relish the 2nd Division scene.
Whatever – I won’t go on too long . Suffice to mention that for a Real Sociedad follower, it’s been a great weekend. On Saturday night the women’s team beat the mighty Atlético 2-1 in the Copa de la Reina – which was interesting because of course Queen Leticia’s bloke (that’s the king) is an Atlético fan, so I suppose she might have been persuaded to follow the gals, currently Spanish champions. But Sociedad sprung a surprise and played a clever counter-attack game, and squeezed a historic 2-1 win for their first-ever trophy. The last time Real Sociedad won a cup it was due to the famous Luis Arconada saving a penalty against….Atlético Madrid in 1987. 32 years down the line his brother Gonzalo, the fem team’s coach masterminds the club’s next cup, against the same opposition, as it were. That’s the great thing about supporting a modest club – the wins, when they come, carry more emotional significance. And just in case I have to insist again, Sociedad’s team averaged 22.7 years and had six home-grown girls from the Gipuzcoa region playing. Atlético had only one Madrileña in the team. Curiously, Sociedad had two (from Madrid) but were largely stocked on home-growns. As I’ve written before, don’t look to Bilbao for this. Despite all the hype, Sociedad win on the local stakes with both the male and female teams.
Of course, the weekend was rounded off nicely by the 3-1 win at home to Real Madrid, who were actually being outplayed even when they had eleven men on the pitch. After Vallejo left for an early bath, only one team were going to win it, despite the fact that Courtois saved the penalty after centre-back Vallejo’s equally fine save at the end of the first half. Y’know, I keep looking at the replay and I’m sure Carvajal handles it was well, as Willian José’s shot makes its way to Vallejo. That would have made an interesting precedent if the ref has sent them both off.
Real Sociedad had eight Gipuzcoanos either playing or on the bench, and it’s at times like Sunday when you wonder why you would want to support anything other than a team that puts its youth structure first. Which is an excuse to tell you that 17 year-old Ander Barrenetxea is sensational.
I’ve been wrong before, but after so many years of watching footy I can sniff a good ‘un. He’s still at school, and was famously photographed by ‘Marca’ going home after the Getafe game on his bicycle, but on the grass Real Madrid couldn’t cope with him, and he finally scored his top-flight opener, aided by an error from Courtois who, apart from the penalty save, had a bad day at the office. To be fair to Madrid (although it should have been 5-1), Brahim Diaz scored a sensational opener, and when Vinicius came on (oddly late) you could see what the fuss has been about. He’s electric. If he can just keep his head a little more, especially for that final pass, he’s also going to be scandalously good. As they say – at the darkest point of the night, the dawn is just about to break.
It’s almost over bar the shouting, but next weekend still holds some interest. Don’t worry. Liga Fever will be there, to help you manage your emotions.