FEATURE | Week 32 La Liga Review

Barça’s Balaidos Blues Strike Again

April 5, 2015 – A match which saw Jeremy Mathieu cement Barça cult hero status with a vital winner (two weeks on from settling the clásico) and Fabian Orellana receive one of the strangest red cards ever seen in La Liga – for lobbing a piece of the turf at Sergio Busquets – also remains the last time Barcelona went to Vigo and came away with three points.

The Galician side just seem to have Barça’s number at Balaidos and but for a shocking open-goal miss from Nolito late on, we could have been talking about another famous Celta victory. Having picked up seven points from the last nine, they have all but removed themselves from the relegation battle.

Barcelona led twice through Luis Suarez’s brace, the first a header from a Messi free-kick routine straight from the training ground, but never looked convincing and it was no surprise that Celta grabbed a share of the spoils. This was another underwhelming performance on the road for the champions, who clearly missed Sergio Busquets in midfield, despite a promising showing from Riqui Puig, who was handed his first La Liga start of the season. 

It wasn’t the best weekend for Quique Setien, with his substitutions, particularly the introductions of the woefully out of form Griezman, who proved the weak link in the wal as Aspas curled in his equaliser, and Arthur, in a week where the club had more or less forced him into a transfer to Juventus, coming in for particular scrutiny. And that’s before we even mention the video which seems to show Messi ignoring instructions from his assistant Eder Sarabia. The mood at the Camp Nou is not good.

Llorente Leading From The Front

The previous meeting between Alavés and Atlético Madrid was probably the low-point of Marcos Llorente’s season. The summer signing from Real Madrid endured a torrid time during the first 45 minutes and after picking up an early booking, was hauled off at the break to prevent him receiving a second. 

It was a very different Llorente who came on with just over half an hour remaining for a game-changing cameo against the Basque side on Saturday night. His two-goal heroics in the Champions League win at Anfield seem to have convinced Diego Simeone that he could be trusted in a more attacking role and his appearances since La Liga returned have seen him used off the main front man, or attacking from the right flank. Together with Diego Costa, he injected a bit more urgency into an Atleti attack which had been struggling to break down their opponents and of course, won the undoubtedly questionable penalty from which Costa scored the game-clinching second goal.

Two weeks ago, Atlético were facing up to an almighty scrap for a Champions League place, but thanks to four wins out of five and also the failings of their other challengers, they are now clear in third place and look all but assured of their return ticket to Europe’s top table. 

Meanwhile people are starting to ask whether Llorente, as yet uncapped at senior level, could reproduce these performances in a forward role for the national team.

Villarreal Continue Their March On Europe

Only Real Madrid have picked up more points since the restart than Villarreal and this has catapulted Javi Calleja’s side right into the thick of the battle for the fourth Champions League place. They were sitting in eighth position, eight points off fourth five games ago, now they are fifth and only three off the Champions League places. 

After three consecutive 1-0 wins, they shared the spoils with Sevilla on Monday in one of the most entertaining games of the season before simply strolling past local rivals Valencia on Sunday afternoon. After Paco Alcacer opened the scoring, Gerard Moreno sealed the points before the break with one of the goals of the season, a first-time volley from a superb Santi Cazorla pass. 

The momentum they’ve built up will be key as their remaining fixtures are tough. After a midweek trip to Real Betis their next four fixtures see them facing the two title challengers and Getafe and Real Sociedad, two of their biggest rivals in the battle for fourth.

Levante – The Great Entertainers

Paco Lopez’s side are one of the most fun teams to watch in La Liga – this has been clear ever since he took over in 2018 and inspired a remarkable escape from relegation. 

Lopez has assembled a team full of attacking talent and when the likes of captain José Luis Morales, Enis Bardhi, José Campaña, Roger Martí and Borja Mayoral click, they can be a devastating force.

This season they’re the only side to have beaten both Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga and against Real Betis at the weekend they showed the strength of their attacking options with four different players getting on the scoresheet. First Mayoral outmuscled Marc Bartra to score his seventh of the season and a fine left-footed effort from Bardhi doubled the advantage before half time. El Commandante Morales added the third, taking the ball round Joel Robles and Ruben Rochina made it four, rifling a shot in at the second attempt. Goals from Canales and Juanmi for Betis were academic as the game was won long before.

They may have little to play for as they’re well clear of the relegation battle but just too far back to join the pack of teams fighting for Europe, but Levante are always worth watching.

A Decisive Weekend?

When La Liga returned to action just over two weeks ago, it looked like pretty much everything was still in play. Yet after five rounds of fixtures much appears to have been settled prematurely.

Starting at the bottom, Espanyol put up a brave fight against Real Madrid, only succumbing to a Casemiro strike set up by Benzema’s sublime backheel assist, but they’re ten points off safety now and on their fourth manager of the season after replacing Abelardo with Rufete on Saturday.

Leganés and Mallorca also put in brave performances but ended up empty handed. With Eibar, Celta and Valladolid all picking up good results this weekend the gap is beginning to look insurmountable.

Moving on to matters at the top, Atlético look to have third spot nailed down, while their city rivals took a huge step towards regaining the title with that win at Espanyol. While it was by no means a vintage performance, it further highlighted their impressive strength in depth and the tactical flexibility that this affords Zidane. 

The only things which really need to be settled in the final few weeks are that fourth Champions League spot and who will be going into the Europa League.

Andrew Gillan

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