Well it’s almost over, we’re almost there. The dying embers of a curious season are still glowing red, but most of the meat has been barbecued. Real Madrid have won the big one, with another big one to come, and have been admirably professional in their post-coital approach to their title win, sending Levante down and then holding off Cádiz when it might have been easier to have simply let them do what they had to do. I’ll let Eduardo subsequently analyse the champs’ season in more depth, but they’ll end the season at home to Betis before the Paris curtain-bow on the 28th.
This penultimate set of fixtures, however, was enhanced by that old-fashioned feeling of everybody playing at the same time – a phenomenon that oldies like me grew up on. It seems almost indecent now to do it, like a frontal attack on our capacity to occupy ourselves during a weekend in which only 90 minutes is dedicated to watching football.
The horror! I was obliged to interact with my wife, go the cinema and beach, and watch Real Sociedad women, although the latter was an excellent game. I’m joking of course, but it’s odd how life has changed since the onset of television’s funding and scheduling of the game. I’m not sure anymore which model I prefer, but for those who have only known the current one, it gives a small glimpse into a sepia world gone by, and it serves to give the game a superficial appearance of fairness, which in general it does not have.
Which doesn’t mean it hasn’t been worth watching – but Madrid won it rather more easily than perhaps they should have. Meanwhile, the only things left to resolve are the Conference League place (Athletic or Villarreal) and the last relegation slot. Alavés joined Levante in the downward chute by losing to….Levante, which was another good sign of teams playing until the end, despite their situations. This has rarely been the case in LaLiga over the years. Alavés are now bottom, and have had a wretched season. The signs were there in the summer, and they’ve fulfilled most folks’ predictions.
They can take some comfort from neighbour Eibar’s good campaign this season in the 2nd Division, but for now the focus is on the team who will join these two. If you were a betting person, you’d probably not put your money on Cádiz to survive, despite their decent showing against Madrid. They must now visit Alavés, who will try to follow (one assumes) the good behaviour so far demonstrated in these dog-eat-dog encounters, whilst Mallorca visit Osasuna. If they both lose – a likely scenario – then Cádiz return to the Second Division. It’s a loss for LaLiga in terms of the team and the city’s charisma, but there’ll be plenty of sides who’ll welcome the geographical travel release. It’s much easier to fly to Mallorca.
Talking of Mallorca, perhaps the day’s most dramatic game was played there, at the San Moix against Rayo. With the game at 1-1 in the 92nd minute, the islanders were probably down and out. Then Abdon Prats, a home-grown boy, scuffed the winner and went the full ape, running to the dug-out in cinematic mode glory, to receive the bouncing love of his colleagues. Rayo had snuffed out an earlier goal to the non-local hero, the Kosovo Vedat Muriqi, whose ageing porn-star ponytail cannot detract from his excellent heading abilities. His goal is worth checking out, if you like those full-on headed goals from centre-forwards of yore.
At the higher end of the ocean zone, where the light penetrates and the big fish swim, Athletic are still dreaming of a Conference League place at the expense of Villarreal, who lost 2-1 at home to Real Sociedad – thus conceding to the latter the 2nd Europa League place. Villarreal have had an odd season – inconsistent in the league to a worrying degree and yet worthy semi-finalists in the Champions League, flying the flag for LaLiga’s more modest denizens. There was a moment, in that Liverpool return leg, when the impossible seemed possible, as it were, but logic re-imposed itself as the second half wore on. Or perhaps Liverpool’s greater physical strength and general power-play.
Whatever – there was a moment when Villarreal threatened to turn the cosmos upside-down, and it brightened the season considerably. The trouble is that the considerable feats of defeating Juve and Bayern meant that they had to go for it, with the obvious effect this has had on their league campaign. Now they might not even be in Europe next season, which seems a bit brutal – but it looks on the cards. They travel to Barça next week, and although the Catalans have a habit of letting up once their position is secured, it’s not an easy scenario for the yellow ones.
In the league they’ve generally been poor, and their nemesis Real Sociedad have not – despite their struggles to score this season. With better finishing and a healthy Mikel Oyarzabal they would easily have easily made it to the Champions League, and they’ve been on the end of some shocking refereeing too. But in the end it’s just about right, 6th spot. If Betis lose next week and Real beat Atletico (I’ll be there) they’ll finish a very worthy 5th. It could easily happen because Betis visit Real Madrid – a nice fixture to end the season on for the neutrals at least.
Betis, like Real Sociedad, have been fun to watch this season, but have been far more effective up front, curiously because of three ex-Sociedad players (Juanmi, Canales and Willian José). Their rather more dour neighbours Sevilla managed a point at the Wanda in the day’s other big game, and although this was the reason for them to celebrate, there’s trouble at the mill with Monchi purportedly seeking out replacements for Lopetegui, whose pragmatic tendencies have failed to convince the guys at the top, it would seem.