La Liga Week 35: Real Madrid clinch the title

Congratulations to Real Madrid for winning their 31st Spanish league title. It’s been a funny old season in Spain so perhaps it was appropriate that Madrid should come from behind and score twice in the last five minutes when they were down to ten men to win 1-2 at Osasuna. Villarreal are looking good for second place after a 2-0 victory over Getafe, while Barcelona who seem to be in a serious crisis surprised everyone by walloping Valencia 6-0. Some might be more surprised by the fact that Thierry Henry played well and scored twice!

Real Madrid have received a lot of criticism this season but nobody can doubt their fighting spirit. Led by the Spanish contingent of Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Guti and aboveall Raul, Madrid have managed to overcome the injury problems suffered by so many of their foreign stars. To win the league with three matches to spare dispels any doubt about who is the best team this season. On Wednesday Barcelona will be the first team obliged to applaud Madrid onto the pitch which will be a moment for the Bernabeu faithful to cherish.

Madrid never have it easy when they visit Pamplona, and Osasuna desperately need the points in their battle against relegation. Things got more complicated for Madrid when Cannavaro was sent off at the start of the second half, but this team seems to react well to adversity. Sneijder came close to putting Madrid in front when he hit the bar after 56 minutes, then with just eight minutes remaining Osasuna were awarded a penalty for a hand ball from Heinze. When Puñal scored it looked as if Madrid would have to wait a few more days to celebrate the title, but then in the 87th minute Robben headed home Higuain’s cross to equalize, and two minutes later Higuain scored a dramatic winner to set off the fireworks in Madrid. Osasuna slip uncomfortably into the bottom three.

Villarreal have played some excellent football this season and deserve to be in second place, four points above Barcelona, after a 2-0 win at home to Getafe. Santi Cazorla has had a great season and once again he was the main creative influence behind the win. Will any of the big teams sign him up this summer? Villarreal play as a team but their other outstanding player this season has been Turkish striker Nihat. In the 37th minute a great pass from Cazorla found Rossi who set up Nihat for the first goal. Six minutes later Cazorla and Pires combined well before Nihat finished with his 17th goal of the season. The second half was then a fine display by Villarreal of how to hold on to a lead without any problems. They will surprise a few teams when the return to the Champions League next season.

Barcelona went into their game with Valencia with all sorts of questions being asked about president Laporta, coach Rijkaard and many of the star players. The crowd were ready for a big protest but three goals in the first fifteen minutes from Messi, Xavi and Henry helped to change the mood. Valencia were supposed to be over their problems having sacked Ronald Koeman two weeks ago, but their performance did not seem like that of a team that is still in serious danger of relegation. Barça hadn’t scored a goal since the 12th of April and made up for lost time with three more in the second half. Henry showed he can still do it by scoring a typical curler into the far post, and then substitute Bojan Krkic needed only 25 minutes to score twice taking his tally to ten league goals this season. Not bad for a seventeen year old. There was bad news for Barça on Monday morning when it was confirmed that Gabi Milito will need a knee operation and will be out of action for six months.

Atletico Madrid increased their chances of playing in next season’s Champions League with an easy 3-0 victory over Recreativo. Seventeen-year-old Nacho Camacho scored the first and third goals of the win while inbetween Kun Agüero scored his 17th of the season. Recreativo move down a place and are now only just above the relegation zone on goal difference.

Argentinian central defender Roberto Fabiano Ayala doesn’t score many goals, but on Saturday night he scored what may be the easiest and also the most important goal of his career. Zaragoza are in desperate need of points to avoid the drop and in their game with Deportivo neither side could break the deadlock until in the last minute of injury time Matuzalem sent a free kick into the area that Deportivo goalkeeper Aouate came for but missed, Sergio Garcia kept the ball in and passed to Ayala who had the simple task of poking the ball into the empty net. The 1-0 victory takes Zaragoza out of the bottom three, while Deportivo suffered a setback in their push for a Uefa Cup place.

Murcia needed a miracle to avoid the drop but when Aquino and Ivan Alonso scored to put them 0-2 up at Racing Santander it looked like it might be possible. However, an own goal from De Coz put Racing back in the game and then goals from Jorge Lopez and Munitis gave Racing a 3-2 victory which keeps them challenging for fourth place. Murcia are now officially relegated and the late sendings off of Mejia and Pignol only added to their misery.

Sevilla are still on course for a place in Europe next season after a comfortable 2-0 victory over Valladolid. Renato got both the goals in the first half which leaves Valladolid still in danger of going down.

Mallorca won 1-2 at Athletic Bilbao to give them an outside chance of nicking a Uefa Cup place. The excellent Dani Güiza scored both Mallorca’s goals which takes him above Luis Fabiano in the top scorers battle. Llorente got Athletic’s only goal.

Levante and Espanyol fought out an ill tempered 1-1 draw at Levante. Levante went down to ten men after 45 minutes when Berson saw his second yellow cards but things evened up on the hour when Espanyol’s Torrejon was sent off. Juanma gave Levante the lead with thirteen minutes remaining, but then in the 89th minutre Alvaro gave away a penalty and was sent off, and Luis Garcia equalized for Espanyol from the spot.

Finally, Almeria drew 1-1 at home to Betis. Odonkor put Betis ahead just before the break but at the start of the second half Pulido equalized for Almeria. The point is more valuable for Betis who are now more or less safe in 12th place in the table.

Top Six: Real Madrid 78, Villarreal 68, Barcelona 64, Atletico Madrid 58, Racing Santander 56, Sevilla 55.

Bottom Eight: Getafe 42, Valladolid 42, Valencia 42, Zaragoza 41, Recreativo 40, Osasuna 40, Murcia 30, Levante 26.

Top Scorers: Güiza (Mallorca) 24, Luis Fabiano (Sevilla) 23, Raul (Real Madrid)17, Agüero (Atletico Madrid) 17, Nihat (Villarreal) 17.

Nicholas Aldam writes at the FC Barcelona blog.

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  1. Gonzalo 5 May, 2008
  2. Felipe 8 May, 2008