SPAIN: La Liga Week 25 Review



On Friday night, in the last Basque derby in San Mamés stadium, the neighbours from San Sebastian grabbed all three points, as Bielsa’s side again failed to fill the gaps at the back. Montanier surprisingly left Mexican in-form striker Carlos Vela on the bench, while under-pressure Marcelo Bielsa did the same with Iker Muniaín. The Argentinean coach also sentenced goalkeeper Iraizoz to the bench, and let inexperienced Raúl get his debut. The match started in a frantic fashion, and the home team quickly dominated play. Aduriz came close with a powerful header after eight minutes, while Aguirretxe’s angled drive missed the target a few minutes later. Real Sociedad could only sit back as the home team’s pressure was constant. Claudio Bravo did several key saves, and Aduriz missed a sitter close to the half an hour mark. Alone with Bravo, his effort went wide, undermarking Athletic’s problem to finalize their chances this season. But a minute later, they managed to score. Artenetxe hit perfectly on a volley after a cross from Ibai Gómez, and the Chilean goalkeeper couldn’t react to the violent shot. But the home fans’ joy was muted minutes later as Real Sociedad equalized. A cross found Griezmann on the back post, who smartly headed the ball past the inexperienced Raúl in the Athletic goal. The second half was much more open, as the home team ran out of steam. But it was Raúl again who did another blunder as Agirretxe tapped in a cross, as the unhappy Athletic goalkeeper missed holding on to the ball. His misery was completed in the 76th minute as the substitute Carlos Vela curled in a left foot effort for 3-1, which became the end result. As the home fans hope for better luck in their new stadium (which is being built right next to the old one), Athletic dropped closer to the relegation spots. Meanwhile, Real Sociedad moved into the European slots at the top.


A home team in crisis met a Getafe in good form, but it was the hosts who were the better side for most of the match. But a dubious penalty, and a double brace from Colugna, put the islanders at the bottom of the league. Mallorca hoped sacking Caparrós, and bringing in Manzano would turn a miserable season around. But a solitary point since then shows that it might be too little, too late. The home team started well, though, and had several chances through Casadesús and Hutton, but keeper Moyá kept the score sheet clean. That was until Mexican international Dos Santos put up a marvelous individual run, and completed it with a delightful curling finish for the first goal. Mallorca kept dominating the match, but was unlucky when referee Teixeira Vitienes whistled for an alledged handball in the area, which at the least was debatable as it seemed to hit Nunes’ chest rather than the arm. Diego Castro converted the spot kick with a delightful “Panenka”-style chip. The home team, who until then had been vicious on counterattacks, fell apart, and instead it was Getafe who turned the encounter around. Alexis hit the post with a header. With constant danger from Gavilán and Fede Fernández opening up the mallorquin defence, Colugna was at the end of assists from these two, scoring twice in quick succession to earn the visitors a comfortable away win. A new low for the morale of Manzano’s men, which needs to start finding their stride if they hope to survive the relegation battle.


The referee Del Cerro Grande was the deciding factor in a tough encounter. With a player down, the home team was furious being denied a goal in stoppage time for alleged assault on Valenca goalie Diego Alves. Coach Paco Jiménez had to field second choice goalkeeper Leo Franco after Roberto injured himself in training, leaving the latter out of the starting eleven for the first time in sixtyeight consecutive matches. The visitors had to do without stopper Adil Rami through injury, while midfielder Tino Costa was suspended after his red card last weekend. Zaragoza were the sharper starters, often breaking Valencia in their own half. But when right back João Pereira uncharacteristically missed a pass, Victor Ruiz followed up by tripping Postiga in the area. Incredibly, the referee only showed the yellow card. Even more bizzare, he gave to Ricardo Costa, who hadn’t done anything wrong! Apoño made no mistake from the spot kick, and Zaragoza took the lead after only five minutes. An abysmal performance by Victor Ruiz gave the hosts more chances, and the Brazilian goalkeeper Alves had to made some excellent saves. But a 32nd minute crossed freekick made it 2-0 when Postiga beat Victor Ruiz to the ball. This time, Diego Alves could do nothing. Valencia seemed to have a hard time finding the rhythm, and Zaragoza looked more likely to score their second on a counterattack than Valencia were to equalize. But just before half time, out of form Jonas volleyed in a cross on the back post to make it 1-1. Again, the officials came under criticism as the linesman had failed to spot Soldado in an offside position leading up to the goal. The second half saw both goalscorer Apoño and Valencian stopper Ricardo Costa retire with injuries. Real Zaragoza lost the initiative, while Valencia coach Valverde had to do several changes to the team. Apart from Banega entering the pitch, Mathieu also came in after being sidelined since October last year. The Frenchman came close when he hit the crossbar with a thundering effort just after entering, but it was Jonas again who made Valencia level on score in the 79th minute. A corner kick was sent onwards by Ruiz, and Jonas headed in the equalizer. The Brazilian, who has been under heavy criticism from the fans lately because of poor form, abstained from celebrating both goals, clearly a demonstration. The drama hit new heights as Soldado was sent through on goal a minute later. Leo Franco rushed out, and grabbed the ball just before the striker’s feet, but did so outside the area. He was promptly shown the red card, and third choice goalkeeper Alcolea had to step in. Valencia put in a tremendous pressure in the final minutes, but couldn’t find a way through. Instead Real Zaragoza won a corner kick two minutes in overtime. The cross ended in a scramble in front of the goal, and after Diego Alves fumbled the ball while lying on the ground, Postiga netted from close range. But the referee disallowed the goal for an assault on the goalkeeper. Both the home fans and the players were furious, and replays showed they had reason to be. No Zaragoza-players were touched Alves as he went down, and it was the Brazilian goalkeeper who kicked the ball into Postiga’s chest before it hit the net. But the final result stood at 2-2. Referee Del Cerro Grande was later rewarded with a 1 out of 10 in Marca for his exploits.


Real Madrid went to Riazor without Benzema, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos, and Mourinho also put Cristiano Ronaldo, Özil and Khedira on the bench. This made a desperate home team, rock bottom in the league before this round, capitalize on a slow-paced favourite. The first half had few chances, with Depor sitting low against the guests, who couldn’t find an opening. In the 34th minute, Real Madrid’s complacency was punished when Pizzi served Riki on a counterattack. The latter’s finish went in by the near post under Diego Lopez for 1-0. The match changed again ten minutes into the second half, as Mourinho used all his three substitutions, putting on Cristiano Ronaldo, Özil and Khedira for Modric, Essien and Marcelo.  Suddenly the tempo of the match accelerated, and the “merengue” started generating goal opportunities. After both Higuain and Ronaldo had their goals correctly disallowed for offside, Kaká equalized in the 72nd minute with a curled shot into the corner, leaving Aranzubia with no chance. Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t get on the score sheet, but passed superbly to Higuaín minutes before the end, who scored his 100th Real Madrid goal. Deportivo couldn’t respond, but two minutes in injury time Di Maria was shown two yellow cards in quick succession. The first for kicking the ball away on a Depor free kick, and the second for standing too close to the ball on the same freekick. That rules the Argentinean out the “clasico” against Barcelona next week.


Another team saving key players for the upcoming return match in the Champions League was league leader Barça. Probably the men who started also had their minds on the Milan match, because Sevilla opened the scoring on a counterattack. A cross became a goalmouth scramble, before Coke passed neatly to Botía to hammer it in after sixteen minutes. Barcelona woke up after that, but failed to seriously upset a resilient Sevilla defence before half time. But just seven minutes into the second half, Barcelona’s pace and precision became too much for Emery’s side. A Dani Alves cross landed perfectly for subbed-in David Villa, who cleanly headed it home for the equalizer. Both teams generated goal opportunities afterwards, but it was a bright Cristian Tello who set up Messi for the winner on the hour mark. Despite a brave effort by the home team, Rourda’s side strolled to victory, as his substitutes had turned the match around. For Sevilla coach Emery, it was his eight straight loss in Camp Nou, neither being lucky with Almería and Valencia. Still, the Basque can take comfort that his side gave the reigning champions a fight to the final whistle.


The home team is the surprise package of the league this season, and came into this encounter with four straight home wins. Meanwhile, Djukic’s team have had a varied season, but their attractive football makes them best of the promoted teams, and they sit comfortably in the middle of the table. The first half didn’t offer much in chances, as Rayo pressed against a solid Valladolid defence. Closest came Trashorras nicely trying to chip the ball over Rueda, but the effort was eventually saved by Hernandez. In the final minutes before half time, Omar had an effort from long range, but blew it slightly over the bar. After the break, the visitors attacked with more determination. Especially Bueno was brilliant for the “pucelanos”, who constantly robbed the ball in midfield, before sending it precisely down the flanks. But Valladolid too struggled to create clear opportunities, until the net finally stretched in the 72th minute. Bueno sent a freekick into the area, and Amat clumsily scored an own goal as he tried to clear the danger. But the central defender would make up for it just a minute later with a riveting shot from midfield, spotting Dani too far away from his goal line. His own goal would come back to haunt him, though, as Manucho decided the match in the 79th minute. Again it started with Bueno winning the ball in midfield, before expertly drifting towards goal. A perfect pass left it for Manucho to simply tap it into the empty goal, making it 2-1 for Valladolid. Tamudo, coming on as a sub after a long injury break, almost made it level in injury time, but his effort was well saved by Dani. Real Valladolid confirmed their firm position away from the regulation battle, while Rayo missed an opportunity to hold onto a spot in the European Cup slots.


The Asturians were desperate for points sitting in the relegation zone, while the visitors from Andalucía also could do with a win to avoid getting there. It was also the debut for Abel Resino as Celta’s new coach. It turned into an entertaining match, both teams looking for the opener, especially the home team. The sky blue had a great chance after just six minutes, but Tono saved a double effort by Augusto Fernandez. But eventually Granada took hold of the midfield, and it was against the run of play when Iago Aspas chipped it over the keeper for 1-0 after 24 minutes. Just four minutes later, Ighalo equalized with a thundering volley after a cross from the right. Both teams had huge chances to go into the dressing rooms with a lead after that, but the half time score stood at 1-1. In the second period Celta were the pressing team, while Granada went back to sitting low and hoping for good counterattacking opportunities. But nothing serious happened until Ighalo hammered the ball against the crossbar. The match looked destined for a draw when Aspas headed a cross onwards into the area. Bermejo, just on as a substitute  didn’t hit the ball cleanly, but the poor shot actually helped to fool the goalkeeper. After regaining their lead, Celta went back to defend it, and despite some pressure from the visitors, hauled in three vital points. A perfect start for coach Resino, and Celta are now two points behind Osasuna (one match less) and Real Zaragoza on safe ground. Despite losing, Granada can console themselves for playing better than earlier in the season, but can’t afford to lose any more against relegation rivals.


Simeone may had slipped up in the Europa League clash at Vicente Calderon, but in the league the took their thirteenth straight win at home, and the eight without conceding a goal! Espanyol, much improved since new year, failed to exploit playing with a man more half the match. Atletico, free to put everything into the league campaign after their exit from Europe, fielded the “Once Gala”, or their best players. The match started in a frantic fashion, with both teams going all out for the ball. This resulted in many freekicks and cards. Diego Costa gave the Espanyol defence a lot of headaches, and goalkeeper Casilla was very lucky not to be sent off as he tackled the huge Brazilian on the edge of the area. Minutes later Casilla had to be treated after he spit his lip crashing with Falcao. Then a brawl ended with several yellow cards as a result. Seven minutes before halftime, however, Atletico took the lead. Hector Moreno tripped Diego Costa inside the penalty box, and the referee had no doubts. Falcao coolly scored from the spotkick in the 37th minute. If anybody thought that was the end of the card bonanza, they were wrong. Gabi got his second yellow just before the break, and the home team faced the last 45 minutes with one man less. Simeone chose to pull Diego Costa back on the field instead of subbing anyone, and it did the trick. Espanyol had a hard time creating any chances in front of goal, and instead it was the “colchoneros” who looked more likely to put another one. The visitor’s only clear opportunity on goal came towards the end, when Verdú was well positioned to score. But his finish was uncharacteristically sloppy, and Courtois had no trouble catching it. Atletico strolled to another victory, and kept their bigger city rivals at bay on the table. Nobody doubts there will be Champions League football on Vicente Calderón next season as “Cholo”’s side keeps impressing. Espanyol have improved a lot under Aguirre, but failed to connect in the second half, and all the crosses into the Atletico box was easily cleared. Still, they remain in mid-table, which is much better than their position last autumn.


Malaga came with a poor performance from their Champions League clash away to Porto, while Betis needed three points to not fall behind in the quest for a spot in the European qualifying places. In an atmosphere that had a touch of derby of it, Betis scored immediately. 30 seconds had passed when Molina headed in a corner kick, swerved in by Beñat. Malaga never recovered. Betis completely dominated play, and Isco was perfectly taken out of the game by Cañas. Joaquin and Saviola never saw the ball. Another corner kick in the 27th minute, again from Beñat, this time landed on Mario’s head, and he had no problem emulating Molina in converting it into another goal. The pressure on Caballero’s goal was immense, and soon enough the home team received a penalty, as Camacho had handballed in the area. The spot kick was bizarre, however. The shot went into the crossbar and down, then bounced out again. Caballero frantically managed to clear it, and the rebound was sent wide. But the replay showed that the shot was over the line in the first place, a Geoff Hurst in reverse. The home team added a third, and yet again, Beñat was the architect. This time he found Pabón free in the centre, and the latter needed two chances. Caballero saved the first, but the rebound fell right for Pabón, who did no mistake on his second opportunity. The second half didn’t fare much better with the malagueños, as Camacho soon got his second booking, leaving his team with ten men. Betis had a string of huge chances, but Caballero had a great day at work, and evaded a rout. Pepe Mel’s men even seemed to have mercy in the end, and no further goals were scored. It was a surprise how one-sided he match was, and Pellegrini has a lot to think about before Porto arrives for the important return match. Otherwise, Malaga were lucky that their rivals also slipped up, which means they remain in 4th place. Betis, however, now find themselves just one point behind Real Sociedad on the table, and just four behind Malaga on that coveted Champions League spot. The Villamarin crew seems to have found their great form from last autumn.


While Levante have fallen behind in the quest for another European adventure next season, they came from a comfortable advancement in Pireus. Osasuna, meanwhile, were desperate to avoid the relegation zone, and looked to repeat the rise in form under Mendilíbar, which took them away from the bottom. With two physical teams, it was no surprise that there were a lot of hard duels in midfield from the get-go. The “granotas” were the liveliest in the beginning, and came very close as Martins had an effort from close range after a cross from Juanfran. But the Nigerian sent the tap straight onto Andrés. Both teams had decent opportunities in the first half an hour. Armenteros hit the crossbar for the guests, while Ballesteros came close when the post denied him a rare goal. Míchel, who started brilliantly, was slowly, but steadily, being neutralized by Osasuna’s gritty midfielders, and it ground into a war of attrition at the centre of the pitch. The referee was uncharacteristically lenient with his cards, and nothing was given when Pedro Ríos went down after a late challenge, and had to be treated on the sideline in the beginning of the second half. Just afterwards, Armenteros and Diop crashed, unintentionally giving each other a Glasgow kiss. Both went down, and the stretcher teams suddenly got very busy. Diop was knocked unconscious, and had to be subbed, while Armenteros played on. After the solid midfielder had to leave in an ambulance, Osasuna took over the initiative. They simply muscled out the home team, and covered every space in defence. Levante got some of their own medicine, as the visitors looked a lot more deadly on counterattacks. Still, it seemed like the match was drifting into an uninspired goalless draw when the Iranian Masoud entered the field. Just a minute later, three minutes from time, he expectedly drifted in front of the area, before curling the ball into the top corner. Goalkeeper Navas, who had played great, had no chance. Levante rushed to respond in overtime, but was robbed of the ball, and Kike Sola, also recently subbed in, made it two nothing for the Pamplona outfit. Osasuna made themselves a window of five points down to the relegation limit, while Levante dropped down to 10th, having accumulated only one point in the last four league matches. Diop, by the way, woke up minutes after being carried off the field, but couldn’t remember anything. The diagnosis so far is a heavy concussion, but is expected to be ready for the derby match at Mestalla next weekend.

Pal Odergard

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