Real Madrid enjoyed such serendipity on Sunday that the team could have been led by John Cusack, as opposed to a suspended, smoking Carlo Ancelotti in the Espanyol stands. On the same evening that Barcelona won the league title at the Vicente Calderón, Madrid’s basketball team won the Euroleague for the first time in 20 years.
In a country where basketball is a fairly big deal, the victory was the perfect way to ensure that celebrating Real Madrid basketball players were on the front cover of Monday’s newspapers rather than footballers from Barcelona. To make matters even better for Florentino Pérez, the final was being held in the Spanish capital.
The result – coming after two successive final failures – helped soften a blow that had been coming after last week’s draw with Valencia, but could have been drawn out another round had Barcelona not beaten the Rojiblancos by a single goal. The match went in the fairly predicable manner of those involving Atlético – dogged, stubborn defensiveness with a huge set-piece threat up the other end.
However, Barcelona showed their championship credentials with Leo Messi scoring a tension-smashing goal after 65 minutes. To Real Madrid’s credit, the now-runners-up in La Liga did the job against Espanyol in a 4-1 win that produced a hat-trick for Cristiano Ronaldo and pretty much guaranteed the Pichichi top scorer trophy with 45 for the year, ahead of Messi’s paltry 41. It was no wonder that the Portuguese prowler celebrated his goals in the normal exuberant – and very solo – manner.
The battle for third place will be the big attraction next weekend with the top two going through the motions and looking to rack up cricket scores against Deportivo and Getafe. Atlético’s defeat at the Vicente Calderón allowed Valencia to creep within three points of the Rojiblancos, bad news considering that the Mestalla outfit have a superior head-to-head record against Atleti. The Madrid side now need a point away at Granada, a side that are threatened with relegation but are buoyant on the back of three wins on the trot, Leicester City style.
But the damage could have been a lot worse, with Valencia only managing to draw at Celta Vigo. Nerves are jangling at a club for which Champions League football was one of the minimum requirements of new owner Peter Lim. Valencia face a tricky encounter next week away at Almería, another team facing relegation who are stuck second from bottom. But looking up is not the only activity Valencia will endure next Saturday, as Sevilla are now just a single point behind.
Not content with qualifying for the Champions League through the route of winning the Europa League, it looks like Sevilla are now just showing off by being just as imperious in La Liga with Sunday’s win over Almería.
Athletic took a firm grasp on seventh spot, a position that should be enough to qualify for next season’s Europa League, due to Barcelona’s participation in the Copa del Rey final, coincidentally against Athletic. Like Sevilla, the Basque outfit want to be doubly sure of having European football next year.
The relegation battle in Spain normally offers the best popcorn chomping action on the last day and it will not disappoint, once again, especially with the head-to-head system for teams tied on points clouding the water and literally requiring the infamous calculators to be dragged out. Or an app to be opened.
Córdoba are already down, and it is the southern side’s apathy that may well keep third-from-bottom Eibar up despite the tiny Basque club having just one win in 19 Primera games. Victory on the final day should see Eibar survive, as the side above them, Deportivo, face the unfortunate fact that their last game of the season is at the Camp Nou against a team that might be in a mood to rack up a goal or two to help toast the return of the La Liga trophy to Catalan parts.
There will be soon be plenty of time to poke around the innards of the campaign to see how the title was won or lost. But the campaign for a whole load of other clubs is very much alive, with some rather sweaty palms and sleepless nights from supporters and players from all corners of the country.