Football Features

“A palpable, shuddering mess” – Five Things Learned from La Liga’s penultimate gameweek

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:54, 12 May 2019

It was an exciting penultimate day of action in La Liga.

We saw legends say goodbye to home crowds and iconic players get absolutely splattered all over the place by young upstarts, but what did we learn?

1. Boring Boring Barça

In terms of “things that are possible” – making a team with Leo Messi in it a chore to watch should be right up there with pig’s flying. yet Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona churned out yet another mundane win in La Liga. This has become a calling card of the Valverde-era: absolutely trudging through the medium and little games with little structure or cohesion.

Barcelona spent pretty much all of their match against Getafe looking completely out of sorts. They played with such sporadic cohesion and baffling indifference to ideas of tactical beauty that one has to wonder if Ernesto Valverde was paying attention midweek when an approach like this resulted in his side getting blasted off Anfield and out of the Champions League.

Sergi Roberto, Philippe Coutinho and Arturo Vidal bizarrely retained their places – and Vidal actually scored and had a pretty good game, which is largely because he performs best in open and chaotic games, the kind that Barcelona should never really play. Isn’t that something? A player who’s at his best when his team are at their worst.

Coutinho was so bad and his every touch so whistled that some of the Camp Nou even started applauding him out of pity. The game limped from one improvised attack to the next with no sense of identity. Even a late cameo from young hotshot forward Abel Ruiz and a superb second goal from Leo Messi couldn’t lift proceedings from “meh” to “Mehmorable.” It was pretty bad and honestly, playing like this the Copa del Rey final against Valencia is far from a formality. This season could yet get worse for the Blaugrana!

2. Real Madrid are a mess

No matter how bad Barcelona get this season they can always console themselves with the fact that they are not Real Madrid, who followed up last season’s embarrassing league campaign by blundering through their matches like everyone on the pitch was drunk.

Julen Lopetegui, Santi Solari, even a returned Zinedine Zidane… no one could get a tune out of Los Blancos this season. Gareth Bale has been exiled to the stand, missing two consecutive match day squads even though he’s fit. Keylor Navas’ injury allowed Thibaut Courtois to play again but the Belgian was once more horrific, a shadow of the man who was so good at the World Cup.

In midfield they had no control even after bringing on Luka Modric. In attack they were thoroughly impotent bar one magical and mystical dribble and shot from Brahim Diaz. And in defence? Oh goodness gracious the defence… Jesus Vallejo was sent off a 1-0 down, conceding a penalty that Willian José punted right at Courtois. Marcelo defended with all the rigour of a small child doing their maths homework and Nacho continued his grand Real Madrid career of being out there on the pitch.

Real Madrid are a mess. A palpable, shuddering mess. They’ve lost 11 games this season. 11! They’re going hard for Eden Hazard but by the looks of this game (and this season) they’re going to need a whole new midfield and defence as well as a striker to finish the chances Hazard will create. Zidane’s got a big task on his hands.

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3. Valencia shake it off while gutsy Getafe stumble

Valencia have had a stop-start season but things have been more start than stop of late as they looked to make next season’s Champions League. Then they ran into some poor form, notably Arsenal in the Europa League semi-final and the Gunners slapped the taste out of their mouths 7-3 on aggregate. Not good, not good at all. Then they fell behind at home to Alavés today, and suddenly their hopes of making the Champions League next season looked bleak.

But Los Che roared back with three goals to notch a huge win and right their season as they head towards the final week and the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona. Meanwhile Getafe, the side Valencia are chasing in that fourth spot, were busy playing Barcelona. And although they gave as good as they got in attack and came perilously close to scoring at the Camp Nou, in the end they just didn’t have the luck and Messi’s one-man attack eventually broke them down.

The weekend started with Getafe on 58 points and Valencia on 55. Now both are on 58 and as Los Che hold the head-to-head advantage (due to winning in the Coliseum Alfonso Perez earlier in the season) they occupy that hallowed fourth spot. A win next week against Valladolid will see them qualify for next season’s Champions League.

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4. Valladolid secure safety

Beating Valladolid next week got considerably easier for Valencia after Ronaldo’s club secured their safety this week by beating Rayo Vallecano 1-2. They began the gameweek a point above the drop-zone, but securing a 1-2 win away to already relegated Rayo put them up to 41 points, four ahead of 18th place Girona. They started the season with a patchwork pitch at home but now they can put that investment (and Ronaldo’s connections in La Liga) to good use next season and perhaps build a side that can do more than battle relegation all season.

5. Aspas has one more miracle to do

Iago Aspas has been on an absolute mad one since returning from a calf injury. He played today as Celta lost away to Athletic Club but that is the first time he’s played in a Celta defeat since February. The Celta legend has been inspirational since he returned into the side, scoring 8 goals and registering 4 assists in just 8 games.

Those aren’t just team-highs, either. Since he returned to fitness no La Liga player has scored more goals than Aspas’ 8, only one person has more assists than his 4 and nobody has created more big chances than his 6. He’s been a man possessed, masterminding heart-stopping wins over Villarreal, Girona and even Champions Barcelona.

But there’s one more hurdle left if Celta are to stay up. They currently sit on 40 points, which is a total Girona can match with a win on the final matchday. So Iago Aspas, the local legend who so often carries Celta (they lost 8 of the 10 games he missed) has to conjure one more miracle if Celta are to survive. They have to get at least a point against Rayo Vallecano on the final day. If they manage that, they get to live and fight another day.