FEATURE | 5 talking points from week 36 in La Liga

Mission accomplished for Atleti

Victory over Real Betis on Friday night earned Atlético qualification for the Champions League for the eighth consecutive season. To put this into context, prior to Diego Simeone’s arrival, they had only played eight seasons in Europe’s top competition in their entire history with their best run being three consecutively. 

Diego Simeone has come in for some criticism this season, with how the transition from the old guard has been managed and it did look at one stage that Atleti may have to settle for Europa League football. But since the league returned from lockdown, they have been more of less faultless and combined with the failings of the other clubs in the hunt, they’ve achieved their key objective with two games to spare.

Simeone can now turn his attention to this season’s Champions League – due to be finished with a mini-tournament in Lisbon next month. The draw for the tournament was made last Friday and handed Atleti a tie against RB Leipzig, who were extremely impressive in dismantling last season’s beaten finalists Spurs in the first knockout round, but finished the Bundesliga season on a low note and will be without star striker Timo Werner, who has agreed a move to Chelsea and will not participate in the Champions League. 

An important summer awaits Valencia

Valencia’s defeat at the hands of Leganés on Sunday afternoon represented the latest low in a season which promised much but has become a nightmare for Los Che.

Last summer Valencia had qualified for the Champions League for a second successive season and ended an eleven-year wait for a trophy by defeating Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final. But the relationship between manager Marcelino and the club’s administration was always on shaky ground at best so few believed the board’s reasons for replacing him with Albert Celades early in the campaign. Celades oversaw a Champions League hammering by Atalanta and a Copa defence which ended with a whimper in defeat by Granada in the quarter-finals. 

But it was a dire run of form after the return from lockdown which saw Peter Lim pull the trigger again and with the air of a weary movie detective called out of retirement for one last job, club stalwart Voro returned to try and turn things around to at least secure participation in European competition next season.

What comes next is huge for the club. Fan unrest is high, especially after some comments from Lim’s daughter Kim on Instagram where she claimed that her family could do ‘anything we want’ with the club and the jewel of the club’s youth system and great hope for the future, Ferran Torres, only has one year left on his contract and has plenty of suitors who would be keen to do a cut-price deal this summer. 

Sevilla back in the big time

Their 2-0 win over Mallorca, combined with Villarreal’s defeat by Real Sociedad gave Sevilla an unassailable advantage in fourth and confirmed their return to the Champions League after two seasons away.

This represents a remarkable achievement considering what has gone on in the last couple of seasons at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, two years where the club seemed to be drifting with no direction. Both seasons ended with Sporting Director Joquin Capparos stepping into the manager’s chair for the final months of the season after the likes of Eduardo Berizzo, Vincenzo Montella and Pablo Machin didn’t prove up to the job. 

The first key step was persuading Monchi to return home after a frustrating two year sojourn at Roma. In his first transfer window he sold 15 players and brought in 13 – a remarkable overhaul by anyone’s standards. Not all of these signings were successful – Chicharito and Munas Dabbur departed again in January after failing to make much of an impact – but plenty of them were – Lucas Ocampos has been one of the stars of the La Liga season, Diego Carlos and Jules Kundé have given them a rock-solid base in defence. Attacking signings made in January included Yousseff En-Nesyri and Suso and with the benefit of having had time to settle in should improve next season, while they also have the option of bringing back Carlos Fernandez, who has excelled on loan at Granada.

And the man in charge deserves credit too – Julen Lopetegui has not always been popular during his first season in charge – his controversial departure from the Spain job and his Real Madrid connections still loomed large and there were even chants calling for him to leave earlier in the season. But you can’t argue with the results, Sevilla are unbeaten in 13 games in La Liga, they’ve done the double over Betis and now they’ve clinched Champions League qualification. 

The relegation battle goes on…just!

With Eibar and Real Valladolid mathematically securing their place in La liga next season, the relegation battle is down to the final four. Celta, Alavés, Leganés and Mallorca have two games left to save themselves.

Celta and Alavés do have a four point advantage over the two sides below them, so victories in the next round against Levante and Betis respectively would be enough to keep them safe. But neither side is in particularly good form, Celta’s mini-revival has ground to a halt and Alavés have only picked up one point from their last seven games. 

Leganés kept their hopes alive with a 1-0 win over Valencia on Sunday, but have the most difficult fixtures of any of the four teams, having to go away to Athletic Club and then host Real Madrid on the final day. Mallorca will need to pick up results against Granada and Osasuna f they’re to have any chance. But considering how hopeless their situations looked a couple of weeks ago, the fact they’re still alive is to their great credit.

Madrid dig deep to move within touching distance of the title

A visit to the Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes would be an acid test of Real Madrid’s title credentials. Barcelona lost there earlier in the campaign. Atlético could only manage a draw. So it was massively reassuring to Zidane that his side started so quickly. Ferland Mendy opened the scoring, becoming the 21st member of this Real Madrid squad to score in La Liga this season, before Karim Benzema doubled the advantage with his 19th of the campaign.

It looked as good as over at half time, but Granada pulled one back through Darwin Machis early in the second half and the hosts made sure Madrid had to work for their win. Antonin was denied by Courtois and then Ramos cleared off the line from Azeez. 

One more win will do it for Madrid now, if they can defeat Villarreal at Valdebebas on Thursday night, they will be Champions. 

As for Granada, they are still in with an outside chance of reaching the Europa League places, but even if they don’t make it, they have been one of the revelations of the season in La Liga.

Andrew Gillan

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