There are two rather significant La Liga teams who may not give two hoots if the final two rounds of matches never take place. But Barcelona and Real Madrid have very different motives for wanting the domestic campaign to trickle away.
For Real Madrid, the freedom of having two weekends free – plenty of opportunity for a couple of hastily arranged, money-stuffed pick-up games – could be handy in preparation for the club’s final chance to win something proper this season. And no, the World Club Cup doesn’t count.
Barring a complete blow-out for Barcelona over the theoretical final two games of the season, the league title has now gone after a 2-2 draw with Valencia. Madrid had to have a perfect streak in the final stretch of the domestic campaign, and indeed were unlucky not to win after going down by two goals to the visitors. The woodwork was struck three times and Cristiano Ronaldo was unfortunate to be taking a penalty against Diego Alves, the Brazilian pulling off a stop to set a humdinger of a record of 19 spot-kicks saved in La Liga from a possible 40. The straws being grasped in the Spanish capital and especially by Carlo Ancelotti are that the voracity and vitality of the performance – if repeated against Juventus on Wednesday – should be enough to prevail and overturn a 2-1 deficit.
Failure to do so (and a Champions League exit) will be another reason for the club and players to cheer an abrubt end to the season. It means that they won’t have to face arguably some of the worst supporters on the planet, supporters that decided to lift the spirits of the players ahead of Wednesday’s game by booing Iker Casillas, Gareth Bale and even Cristiano Ronaldo. It was no wonder that Casillas made a ‘stuff it up your jumper’ gesture with a choice bit of swearing aimed in the direction of the stands.
If Barcelona can avoid having a Porto moment against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, then a couple of weeks in the doldrums to focus on a Champions League final will be very handy indeed, with Leo Messi for one carrying an awful lot of miles in his legs, legs that are going to be seeing even more wear and tear in the Copa America, which kicks off just days after a possible Clasico date in Berlin.
A 2-0 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday gives Barcelona a four-point lead over Real Madrid and takes a little bit of heat out of next weekend’s clash in the Vicente Calderon against Atletico, considering that the final game of their season is against Deportivo, a club fighting relegation because they cannot buy a win.
Despite dropping two points against Levante on Sunday, Atletico Madrid look a solid bet for third place with Valencia four points behind. The Mestalla men should also secure fourth and a passage through to the qualifying rounds due to a three-point lead over Sevilla. But it might be a win-win situation for both clubs with the Andalusians nicely on course to retain the Europa League and thus see La Liga potentially with five representatives in the Champions League next season.
And this makes it such a crying shame that those organising the game in Spain are such petulant half-wits. Over the weekend, the Spanish League president Javier Tebas decided to pick a fight with the Players Union by comparing their star-studded press conference to call a strike last week with that of a Basque separatists party.
The reply from the union head, Luis Rubiales, was that someone who once “belonged to the Falange” should shut his trap. A judge is set to decide on Wednesday if a players’ strike over the new TV deal is legal. However, that will not stop the Spanish FA taking its ball away, something it is still planning to do.
Meanwhile, everyone in Spain carries on under the presumption that football life will not simply stop on May 16. And there isn’t really any alternative. Anything else is still literally unthinkable and inconceivable.