FEATURE | La Liga matchday 38 talking points

Leganés go down fighting

Leganés couldn’t quite pull off a great escape, but the fact they had managed to take the battle down to the final day was something remarkable in itself.

Remember, they had two points on the board when Mauricio Pellegrino departed after nine games but despite a revival after Javier Aguirre was appointed, they were forced to sell first Youssef En-Nesyri to Sevilla in January, then Martin Braithwaite as an emergency signing to Barcelona in February – and weren’t allowed to sign a replacement themselves. Then Óscar Rodríguez, who had emerged as their new talisman, was ruled out for most of the run-in, only reappearing as a second half substitute on the final day.

They went into the final day needing a minor miracle – and they nearly got it. Twice they went behind against Real Madrid – admittedly a rotated Real Madrid, but a strong side nonetheless – and twice they levelled, all the while knowing that if there was a Celta goal in Barcelona, their efforts would be in vain. They could have won it, they probably should have had a penalty to do so, Luka Jovic’s handball looked every inch a stonewall penalty, but wasn’t reviewed by VAR. With the seconds ticking away, Óscar, the man who had done so much to help them into this position, took aim from distance. The headlines were ready… but he missed the target. The final whistle soon followed. 

The devastated Leganés players collapsed on the floor, club captain Unai Bustinza could barely speak in his post-match flash interview, such was the emotion of the situation. They had given their all and it still hadn’t been enough. And when relegation came down to such fine margins, it’s hard not to think that this season might have had a happier ending had Martin Braithwaite been leading their forward line instead of sitting on Barcelona’s bench.

Celta cling on 

Stung by a flirtation with relegation last season, Celta Vigo went big in the transfer market, bringing in players who had a connection to the club, such as former youth players Denis Suarez and Santi Mina and Rafinha, whose father played for the club and also had a previous spell on loan under Luis Enrique. This injection of talent was supposed to help them back into European contention, instead they ended up being one of the most infuriating teams in the league. 

Their highest league position all season was twelfth – which they occupied in weeks two and three – and after that never managed to climb above 15th, also spending 13 weeks in the bottom three in the middle of the campaign. Despite this, they proved a consistent thorn in the side of the top sides, drawing twice with Atlético, 2-2 at the Bernabéu and basically scuppering Barcelona’s title challenge by the same scoreline in Vigo – a game they would have won but for Nolito’s inexplicable open goal miss late on.

After beating Alavés 6-0 and winning 1-0 at Real Sociedad, they didn’t manage to pick up another win for the remainder of the season, a 5-1 defeat at Mallorca just after that Barcelona result seemingly having a catastrophic effect on their morale. Against Espanyol on Sunday they were lucky not to end up with another defeat, Adrian Embarba’s goal being ruled out by VAR late in the first half, although they would have survived anyway courtesy of their advantage in the head-to-head record with Leganés.

Since reaching the Europa League semi-finals under Eduardo Berizzo in 2017, Celta have been treading water in La Liga, with the last two seasons being a little too close for comfort. 

La Real leave it late to make Europe

Having won so many admirers with their youthful brand of attacking football earlier in the campaign, Real Sociedad were mere minutes away from not qualifying for Europe. When La Liga returned, they had high hopes of making a return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2013/14 season, but they made a sluggish start while Atlético and Sevilla flew out of the blocks. 

With key players looking rusty and struggling for their best form, La Real only picked up one point from their first five games and slipped out of the Champions League reckoning. But they went into the last game of the season needing a result against Atlėtico to be sure of a place in the Europa League. 

Initially, it was not going well, Alvaro Morata’s deft flick set up Koke for the opening goal and La Real were kept at bay by the usual heroics of Jan Oblak in the home goal. The Slovenian kept them at bay until the 87th minute, when Adan Januzaj’s low free kick ended up in the back of the net, possibly via a touch off Atleti’s Hector Herrera and this, combined with Getafe’s late defeat at Levante, proved enough to see them over the line. 

It’s hard to look back at the season for Real Sociedad and not wonder what might have been had football not been suspended in March. At that stage they were in good form and had an all-Basque cup final to look forward to. That final is still to be played, both sides are desperate that such a momentous occasion should be played with supporters in the ground, but it will feel disconnected from the initial euphoria of getting there. 

In the meantime, Imanol Alguacil will look to keep this side together and hope that with the experience of this difficult campaign behind them, they can improve next season.

Granada in dreamland

This time last year, Granada were most people’s tips to go straight back down to the Segunda division. They’d won promotion in second behind Osasuna but had little La Liga pedigree in their squad. Even the signing of Roberto Soldado, 34 and seemingly past his best, wasn’t thought of a game-changer.

But Granada made a brilliant start to life in La Liga, recording a famous win over Barcelona in week five and then proudly sitting atop the table after defeating Real Betis in week 10. They’ve never even been close to getting dragged into the relegation battle, reached the Copa del Rey semi-finals and with three wins from their last four games, including a 4-0 hammering of Athletic Club on Sunday, they managed to sneak into a Europa League spot and qualify for continental competition for the first time in their history.

It’s a great time to be a Granada fan, but while they celebrate, they know the vultures will soon be circling. Diego Martínez has made a name as a promising young coach this season and there are a lot of clubs in the market for a new manager this summer. If Granada can keep hold of him and rebuff likely interest in some of the breakout stars of their season, such as goalkeeper Rui Silva and centre back Domingos Duarte, the future will look a lot brighter.

However, top scorer Carlos Fernández is almost certain to be given his chance to impress at Sevilla next season and finding a replacement for those goals won’t be easy.

Getafe miss out in farcical circumstances

When La Liga resumed, Getafe were sitting in a Champions League place, but today they’re facing up to a season without European football, unless of course, they can win the Europa League in Germany next month. 

It was Real Sociedad’s late equaliser at the Wanda which ultimately knocked them out of seventh place, but that wouldn’t have mattered had their own game against Levante gone the way they desired.

The first half saw a scarcely-believable 11 minutes of stoppage time added on as a result of three delays for VAR reviews, which first ruled out two potential Getafe openers from Ángel and then one from Levante’s Roger Martí. After the break, VAR intervened again when Levante goalkeeper Koke Vegas spilled a free kick and Ángel slid in to touch the ball over the line before he could regather it. Somewhat harshly, this was adjudged to be a foul and the goal didn’t stand.

Getafe were then awarded a penalty, which Mata clipped off the post and to compound their misery, they were defeated late on as Djene’s attempted clearance was charged down by Coke and it rebounded past David Soria and into the net. 

With rumours starting to circulate that José Bordalás sees his future in coaching away from the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, it could be the end of an era at Getafe.

Andrew Gillan

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