BLOG ESPANA
Monday February 25 2013
A weekend of comebacks

Frank Tigani rounds up the La Liga action that made Week 25 a test of resolve for both Real Madrid and Barcelona.

On Sunday morning the Spanish Press were singing the praises of Cristiano Ronaldo. After coming on as a second-half substitute at Riazor, it was he who helped inspire Real Madrid to victory over Deportivo, with the aid of fellow substitutes Mezut Ozil and Sami Khedira. However, it was Kaka that was the real man of the hour.

Sports daily AS ran the headline, ‘Kaka, he’s still got it’ and he certainly showed it. It was he who found the equaliser with a wonderful curling effort from outside the box. And while Ronaldo was credited with the assist for Gonzalo Higuain’s winner, it was Kaka’s exquisite through-ball to the Portuguese that opened up Deportivo’s defence and created the chance.

Madrid’s two late goals spared Jose Mourinho’s blushes and the wrath of the Madrid Press for a few days. While hopes for back-to-back titles are over, as Florentino Perez mentioned during the week, the champions still need to try and win every game in the League. If not to salvage something from a disastrous domestic campaign then to at least to bolster the team’s confidence ahead of the coming ‘finals week’, as Marca declared it, which will see them face Barcelona twice before the showdown at Old Trafford.

Due to a rather bizarre and quick-fire double booking that one would have missed had they blinked, Angel Di Maria will miss El Clasico next weekend. It was the eighth red card in 13 games for Mourinho’s men and three in their last four. In fact, Madrid finishing a game with 11 men is becoming so rare that Aitor Karanka remarked: “It was a trivial action to send someone off for. When we end a game with 11 players, it will make the front pages.”

Meanwhile, Barcelona were looking for a reaction following their shock defeat to Milan in the Champions League. And, they got it. It was not a vintage performance by any stretch of the imagination, but, a win is a win and with two face-offs with their arch-rivals this week, it will be a welcome boost of morale.

Strangely enough, as with all five matches played on Friday and Saturday, Barca too needed to stage a comeback after going a goal down in the first half. David Villa, who was given a rare start, kick-started the turnaround with his effort shortly after the break before Lionel Messi – as ever – finally came to rescue the day. It was his 38th goal of the season – just silly isn’t it?

Much fuss was made about the fact that with Alvaro Botia’s goal at Camp Nou, it is now 10 matches straight the Catalans have failed to keep a clean-sheet. But with a ratio of almost three goals scored for every one let in, it is hardly something that should be of concern.  Besides, they remain 12 points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid. They are cruising towards the title.

Los Rojiblancos are considered the only threat to Barca’s title tilt. However, with two losses in recent days, Diego Simeone’s side are seen as struggling to maintain early-season pace – if being 12 points behind the leader can be considered such as. Nevertheless, they are still hanging in there after securing a slender 1-0 win over a spirited Espanyol this Week 25.

Star man Falcao netted for the third consecutive game to take his season collection to 21 goals. Were it Serie A, the Bundesliga or the Premier League, the Columbian would be top of the scoring charts.

After being knocked out of the Europa League midweek to Rubin Kazan, Simeone reminded everyone that the ‘League is where the heart is’. The other competitions aside are, according to him, ‘looked at as only titles’ by the fans.

While there was little in the way of record-breaking or history-making this weekend, up in the Basque Country it was farewell to an era in many ways. Athletic Bilbao hosted local rivals Real Sociedad on Friday night at San Mames and with the club moving to a new stadium next season, it was the last Basque derby ever to be played at Spain’s oldest stadium.

Unfortunately for Marcelo Bielsa, the occasion could not bring out the best in his players who succumbed to a 3-1 defeat. With Celta Vigo picking up a win for the first time in 13 matches against Granada, Los Leones are hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone. Still, there remains a little buffer zone between them and second-last placed Mallorca who conceded three goals in the last 20 minutes at home to Getafe.

At the other end of the spectrum, Real Betis or ‘Euro Betis’ as they have been labelled, resumed their push for European football next season with an impressive win over Malaga. Their cause was aided by Valencia’s draw result in Zaragoza and Rayo Vallecano’s surprise home reverse. And little but valiant Levante who progressed to the Round of 16 in the Europa League are still in there with a chance of returning to Europe next year, though they had better win against Osasuna on Monday night if they want to keep it this way.

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