Riazor, La Coruna – There were 30 minutes left to play. The match was tied. A goal apiece. Both sides were currently separated by one place in the La Liga table; in fact – as had been the case before the match – it was only one point. But the gap between Deportivo La Coruna and Las Palmas was sort of irrelevant; they were both trying to reduce the gap between themselves and Levante in 16th place. It was a relegation six-pointer that albeit may not have been definitive, was certainly pivotal.
Levante won – rather surprisingly – against Eibar on Friday evening. It was the first home victory at the Ciutat de Valencia since September and gave Levante a seven-point lead over Las Palmas and an eight-point one over Depor. A defeat for either side at Saturday lunchtime would have been fatal, however, a draw was really of no use either. The situation was clear; survival in La Liga now required action and against a direct challenger was a good place to start.
Clarence Seedorf was to yet record his first victory since coming into Galicia with an S.O.S mandate. At the start of play on Saturday, he had only seen his side score one goal – and even that came in a game that featured more bad than good for Depor with debut goalkeeper Koval gifting Eibar a goal and then getting himself sent off.
The appointment of Seedorf had raised eyebrows. Few believed he had the credentials to save Depor from the drop. But then again something left-field sometimes works. Before Seedorf there was Pepe Mel and Cristobal Parralo, both of whom had elected for a conservative approach and only ever set the team up with either Lucas Perez or Florin Andone but never both. There was always an emphasis on not losing rather than trying to win. However, testing times requires testing measures and both strikers have now started the past three matches under Seedorf.
Las Palmas, on the other hand, hadn’t won in six and Paco Jemez was feeling the heat. He had a very idealistic way of approaching football and in times of trouble that can appear naïve. Questions constantly surface as to whether Jemez’ methods suit a struggling club and with better players, he would be seen as revolutionary. For now, he remains – alongside former Las Palmas manager Quique Setien – a maverick.
Levante’s victory 15 hours earlier had put pressure on both sides to get the victory and within 120 seconds Las Palmas had taken the impetus and were ahead. The visitors’ standout performer Alen Halilovic collected the ball on the halfway line before driving at the Depor defence and curling a shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the penalty area. There was a long way to go but Las Palmas were boosted by the early goal. They dominated possession for much of the opening period without seriously testing Ruben again.
However, on 22 minutes, and rather against the run of play, the home side were level. Lucas Perez delivered a fine ball into the area for former Eibar and Derby County defender Raul Albentosa to head past Leandro Chichizola. Seedorf pumped his fist. Maybe just maybe he must have thought. There was over an hour left to play and a lot to play for. That was when the pressure began to be realised. The next 30 minutes were quite tight and tetchy. Neither side wanted to make a mistake and gift the opposition an opportunity.
The final half-an-hour, however, was frantic – it featured seven attempts at goal. Halilovic had a shot deflected wide for Las Palmas before seeing another shot from outside of the penalty area go just wide of Ruben’s post. It was then Deportivo’s turn to attack and they did that constantly for the remaining 15 minutes or so. Guilherme headed a free-kick wide before Celso Borges – who had just come off the bench – delivered a fine delivery only for Lucas Perez to head wide.
Perez then turned provider, whipping a ball into the Las Palmas area towards Sidnei, who found himself in acres of space. His header was superbly tipped over the crossbar by Leandro Chichizola. A save that Las Palmas might look back on with gratitude in the coming weeks. By this time, there were few still in their seats. The home crowd roared on their team. A goal to give them hope was needed and looked as if it was just one more chance away.
In stoppage time, Zakaria Bakkali shot wide and Borges had a shot deflected wide by the onrushing Ximo Navarro. Goalkeeper Ruben even made an appearance in the Las Palmas area for a corner-kick despite the urge from Albentosa to stay back just in case the referee allowed one further attack. The corner was cleared and the whistle was blown. It was finished and also, to an extent was the hope of survival for both of these teams. Las Palmas are the slightly better placed but on evidence of the match, Depor have more to offer.
The issue for both is that Levante are now showing signs off improvement – they’re unbeaten in their last three matches – and upcoming home games against Las Palmas and Malaga could well and truly but the relegation situation to bed. Neither Deportivo nor Las Palmas were able to grasp the much needed three points. A draw, at this stage, is not good enough. Maybe, come May, both sides will look back at the final half-an-hour at Riazor and think: What if?
Los Otros Puntos
- Leo Messi, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele all started for Barcelona but it was Paco Alcacer who got the home side going against a lacklustre Athletic Bilbao with a finish into the bottom corner following Jordi Alba’s pullback. Coutinho then struck the bar with a ferocious strike but soon enough Ernesto Valverde’s current side were two goals up against his former side. Dembele picked out Messi and the Argentine rifled the ball past Kepa to score for the 6th successive match. More chances came and went for the home side – Coutinho hit the crossbar again whilst Dembele fired against the post – but the game had been won and Barcelona moved to within two matches of equalling the longest unbeaten run in the Spanish top flight.
- Samu Castillejo curled the free-kick from the right-side, it was headed away by Diego Godin but only as far as Daniele Bonera, whose shot was tapped in at the back post by Enes Unal. The Turk had already scored to cancel out Antoine Griezmann’s penalty 10 minutes earlier. His double gave Villarreal the victory against Atletico Madrid – a result that was welcomed in Barcelona.
- It was a treat for Real Betis to play on a Saturday let alone a Saturday evening – they’ve played on a Monday evening nine times this season. To ensure this never happens again there were two power cuts, one set of misbehaving sprinklers that drenched some of the Espanyol players, and a number of umbrellas which blew on to the pitch with the speed and movement that some of the Espanyol team could only dream off.
- Goals were the fashion at the Bernabeu – Real Madrid scored six and Girona scored three. Cristiano Ronaldo followed in the footsteps of Mohamed Salah and Mauro Icardi by scoring four goals this weekend.
- Sevilla went from winning at the Theatre of Dreams to defeat at Butarque against Leganes – that’s certainly not a week many have experienced before.
- Getafe came from behind against Real Sociedad to keep their faint hopes of European football next season alive. While the defeat signalled the end of the road for la real manager Eusebio Sacristan and sporting director Loren.
Levante 2–1 Eibar
Deportivo 1–1 Las Palmas
Valencia 3–1 Alaves
Real Sociedad 1–2 Getafe
Real Betis 3–0 Espanyol
Leganes 2–1 Sevilla
Barcelona 2–0 Athletic Bilbao
Villarreal 2–1 Atletico Madrid
Celta Vigo 0–0 Malaga
Real Madrid 6–3 Girona
El Jugador de la Semana: Enes Unal (Villarreal)
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