La Liga: Spain suffers from a lull ahead of Saturday’s El Clásico
Tom Wellman looks at a quiet weekend in La Liga ahead of next Saturday's eagerly anticipated El Clásico at Camp Nou
An unusually dull weekend in Spain
Maybe the midweek fixtures took their toll on La Liga but it was a pretty mundane weekend of football across Spain’s top flight, with almost half of the games ending 1-0. Devoid of classy football and any major shocks, despite Barcelona and Real Madrid both temporarily falling behind in their respective games and Espanyol’s win, it was as though La Liga fancied a week off before the much anticipated El Clásico this weekend. The encounter between Spain’s two top sides is nearing, and with four points the difference and a Champions League semi-final sandwiched between the clash at Camp Nou. Spanish football will soon be back to its enthralling best.
Contact? Try contact lenses, ref!
Ashley Young made headlines in England this week with his penalty-winning tumbles against Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa. Perhaps Manchester United’s midfielder has been watching too much of La Liga? The Spanish league is rife with simulation and foul play, and to make matters worse, the standard of refereeing is poor in contrast to the Premier League. Two extremely generous penalties were awarded in the Barcelona game, and the disciplinary record of the league is abysmal. The word contact has been taken to a whole new context, and the amount of play-acting is outrageous. Merited or not, Barcelona have been awarded five penalties in their last five games, and these decisions are ruining what would otherwise be close encounters – after all Lionel Messi isn’t going to miss from 12 yards.
Espanyol dent Valencia’s Euro hopes
Espanyol’s 4-0 rout of Valencia cemented their claim for a Europa League spot and hampered Valencia’s bid for Champions League football next season. Goals from Cristian Gómez, Joan Verdú, Álvaro Vazquez and Kalu Uche sealed an impressive win in Cataluña and puts the home side just a point behind sixth place. As for Valencia, they failed to build on an impressive point at Real Madrid last week but still maintain their place in third thanks to Málaga’s draw with Real Sociedad.
Relegation battle heats up
Four of the bottom five faced off on Sunday after Sporting Gijon suffered a 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid on Saturday evening. Unlike a normal La Liga campaign, the race to avoid the drop is coming to an earlier conclusion than usual with fewer teams involved – but Real Zaragoza could still pull off an amazing escape. They beat 17th-placed Granada 1-0 on Sunday and pulled themselves to within five points of their rivals with five to play. Villarreal also remain in the mix after conceding a 95th-minute equaliser to bottom club Racing, who despite that result, are 10 points adrift and surely doomed with Sporting for company. But it would be folly to rule out Manuel Jimenez’s plucky men too soon.
Ronaldo makes it to El Clásico
Having been on four cautions for the best part of two months, Cristiano Ronaldo avoided picking up his fifth booking and a subsequent suspension, so the former Red Devils forward is now certain to face Barcelona in El Clásico on Saturday. Ronaldo said during the week that he “had been behaving himself” and was enjoying his football in the Spanish capital. A goal in the win over Sporting took his league tally to 41, a new record matched only by the mercurial Messi who he faces on Saturday.