Ciutat de Valencia, Valencia – It was derby weekend in Madrid but there was much more at stake in La Coruna and Valencia. It had been labelled the ‘Grand Weekend’ in terms of the relegation battle with the bottom four all playing each other. The gap between Levante in 17th and Las Palmas in 18th was seven points, with these both playing each other on Sunday morning, the battle to stay in La Liga really could be over with full-stops, dotted ‘i’s, crossed ‘t’s and all.
However, before the action in Valencia on Sunday the bottom two teams – Deportivo La Coruna and Malaga – met on Friday evening in Galicia. Faint hopes they both harboured but needed to get the points should events on Sunday take a turn in their favour. Malaga have been assigned to la Segunda for some months now with few giving Jose Gonzalez’s side a chance of survival.
The facts don’t lie about Malaga this season; they had scored only 17 goals in La Liga this season and had failed to score in 20 of the 30 matches so far. Deportivo, on the other hand, had not won since early December; having been beaten 4-0, 5-0 and 7-1 during that period. The appointment of Clarence Seedorf looks increasingly uninspired as each matchday passes. The prospect of Deportivo being in segunda next term looks ever the more likely; Seedorf being there is seriously doubtful.
Depor managed to salvage their place in La Liga on the last day of the 2014/15 season with an improbable result at Camp Nou. The team from Galicia will have to perform heroics of an even greater magnitude if they are to survive this time around. The chance to demote Malaga in all but name seemed like as good a place to start.
Barely six minutes had been played when the matches’ first incident of note took place; Luis Hernandez got caught the wrong side of Lucas Perez and brought down the Depor striker inside the penalty area. The on-loan Arsenal striker got back up to convert the penalty and give the hosts the lead. For the 30 minutes or so that followed, Depor were able to control the match and create chances to extend their lead.
However, with four minutes of the half remaining, Malaga found themselves level. A corner-ball was delivered into the Depor area and pressure applied by the attacking Malaga players forced Guilherme to prod the ball into his own net. After their domination for much of the half, it was a half time score that many in the Riazor couldn’t believe. As it stood, Malaga were dragging Depor down with them.
For much of the second half, the affair was tense with neither side wanting to be the one making the mistake to concede further points. Guilherme went close – this time at the right end – when he let the ball drop over his shoulder and struck a fine shot only for Roberto in the Malaga net to push the ball wide of the post.
The Deportivo pressure didn’t relent as a strike from far out hit the back of Miquel and rebounded back off the post. With 20 minutes left to play, Deportivo’s pressure paid off – Pedro Mosquera played the ball back from the byline towards former Malaga-man Adrian Lopez who placed the ball past Roberto into the net.
With the darkness of night came a resurgence from Malaga, substitute Samu crossed the ball from the left and Diego Rolan, arriving at the near post, applied a deft touch to send the ball over Ruben. All equal and sill – quite possibly – all to play for. A draw for either side would be rather useless. Depor sensed that and went and scored the winner. Similar to his first goal, Adrian Lopez found the ball at his feet on the edge of the penalty area and with a motion akin to déjà vu he put Depor ahead for the third time of the evening.
Malaga’s time was surely now over – both in the match and the season. Focus thus turned to Valencia on Sunday morning where the other two strugglers would have their say on the only real contest left in this season’s La Liga.
The Ciutat de Valencia was packed out. It was the home side’s opportunity to put daylight between themselves and return to Segunda from where they have just come. The sun shone brightly on the sharp colour-contrasting pitch that looked as if it had been made from foam matting. Las Palmas – whose manager Paco Jemez was wearing a suit with a pattern to match the turf – had the better of the early possession. Despite Levante being the home side, it was always going to be Las Palmas who dominated the ball in the early stages – it’s just how they play. With their high defensive line and quick and sharp passing, they looked comfortable and up for the battle.
However, it all changed shortly after the half-hour mark when former Sevilla, and more recently Schalke, player Coke put the hosts ahead. Jose Luis Morales crossed the ball but it was the rebound that fell to Coke who pounced on the lose ball to score past Leandro Chichizola and send Levante into the break with the lead.
However, the 50 or so travelling Las Palmas fans had something to cheer a mere five minutes into the second period. David Garcia headed past Oier following Jonathan Calleri’s cross. Calleri – who had only just come on as a substitute at the start of the second half – gave Las Palmas a much-needed sense of urgency.
The match now resembled a basketball match with both sides attacking. The football flowed from end-to-end and was a nervous but exhilarating watch for those in the stadium. The match looked as if it had another goal in it but time was of the essence and neither were able to get that elusive winner.
With five minutes left to play, Coke received a second yellow card for a late challenge, fans of las granotas feared that it could be a defining moment of this tussle. The hosts had to play the final few minutes with only ten men but they took the initiative and kept hold of the ball, trying to force a mistake out of Las Palmas.
The fourth official held up the board to show that there would be four minutes of stoppage time. Deportivo La Coruna would have been watching, waiting and hoping that Las Palmas held on. But, they didn’t. Jose Campana received the ball on the edge of the penalty area to the left side with 93 minutes on the stadium clock. He paused, looked up and saw the gap to Chichizola left and the prospect of survival behind him. He shot – with curl and pace – and it found the net.
Celebrations ensued right around the Ciutat de Valencia. Safety now surely theirs. The drop for Malaga, Las Palmas and Deportivo now almost certain. Paco Jemez and his players stared at the ground, their opportunity gone. It took awhile for them to get back to their feet and trod towards the tunnel. “Maybe we lost because we wanted to win,” Jemez said after the match. “We must wait for the calculator to say that we have gone down.”
A definitive weekend at the bottom of the La Liga table had settled a question with an answer that has looked likely for some time. The gap now became eight, insurmountable with only seven matches to play. Along with the title race and the chase for Champions League places, the relegation battle is now over.
Los Otros Puntos
- ‘Aspas baila en la feria del Sevilla’ was Diario AS’s headline [Aspas dances at the Sevillan fair]. His outstanding performance against his former club could – and should – confirm his place in Spain’s squad for Russia, he is now the top Spanish scorer in the league with 19. Sevilla defender Guilherme Arana got the goalscoring underway at a sunny Bailados when he pushed the ball into his own net to give Celta Vigo the lead. After half time, Aspas took control by scoring a 20-minute hatrick. He had already tested David Soria in the first half when his volley was superbly tipped over but in the 57th minute he took the ball into his stride and fired across Soria into the bottom corner. Three minutes later, he was wheeling off in celebration again – this time taking advantage of a swinging cross from Jonny Otto and a misjudgement from Soria to place the ball into an unprotected net. The third came in the 78th minute when, following some fine link-up play with Brais Mendez, Aspas fired in a rebounded shot to send Sevilla to a rather humiliating defeat. “He gives us many things with the ball and without the ball,” his manager Juan Carlos Unzue said post-match, hopefully – all-being-well – he will be doing so for Spain in the summer.
- They have faced each other in three finals over the last five seasons – two European Cups, one Copa del Rey – and met in last year’s Champions League semi-final too. Both have also won La Liga and they have European quarter-finals of their own next week. So it is understandable that this derby felt as if something was missing – a ‘decaffeinated’ derby perhaps. Cristiano Ronaldo got the break through for Real Madrid after 53 minutes by volleying beyond Jan Oblak after Gareth Bale had picked him out with a pinpoint cross from the left. However, the lead lasted only four minutes as Antoine Griezmann struck back for Atletico Madrid by finishing from close range. Real could have got the win had it not been for Oblak who performed superbly throughout; ‘Oblak takes charge of the capital’ ran AS’s headline. The true winners of this derby, however, do not hail from Madrid but rather Barcelona.
- A 38-year record of playing 38 La Liga games without defeat was equalled by Barcelona against Leganes on Saturday. Leo Messi scored three and set up the prospect of breaking the record next week at home to Valencia.
- It was some debut in the Anoeta dugout for Imanol Alguacil, his Real Sociedad side knocked Girona for five.
Deportivo 3–2 Malaga
Alaves 2–0 Getafe
Celta Vigo 4–0 Sevilla
Real Betis 2–0 Eibar
Barcelona 3–1 Leganes
Levante 2–1 Las Palmas
Real Madrid 1–1 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 5–0 Girona
Valencia 1–0 Espanyol
Villarreal – Athletic Bilbao be played on Monday
El Jugador de la Semana: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)
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