Thursday ended up not being much better for Real Madrid than Wednesday. After they were bundled out of the Champions League by a Juventus team reigniting the club’s phobia of Italian sides, it was announced that the final two rounds of action in La Liga would be played out after all.
So no skulking off into the summer with a sick note saying that Madrid did not have to complete the season and face one more home match against the fans, due to an institutional verruca.
Even before a judge declared that the Players Union strike planned for the weekend was illegal and needed to be withdrawn, the Spanish League and footballers were in talks about a deal to avoid the almighty mess of an incomplete campaign.
Indeed, that decision was doubly worse for Madrid as the repercussions of a substantial stoppage might have reduced by half the amount of ‘where did it all go wrong?’ and ‘who’s to blame?’ at the Santiago Bernabéu. Aside from poor Gareth Bale, of course. ‘The disaster of the century,’ was the declaration from Marca on Thursday, with the paper happily ignoring various other Champions League mishaps over the past 12 years or so.
As it stands, the Champions League title chase is now officially over for Madrid, and La Liga could be too on Sunday if Barcelona beat Atlético Madrid in the Vicente Calderón. However, that is a fairly hefty ‘if’. The Rojiblancos are by no means secure in third with Valencia four points behind with six to play for.
And there is perhaps a chance that Barca might be a little relaxed with all the talk in the Catalan capital of whether a treble is on the cards despite everything being still to play for. A loss to Atleti, and a victory for Real Madrid at Espanyol, could see a single point difference on the final day with Barca facing a relegation-threatened Deportivo at the Camp Nou. That will certainly be the message from Luis Enrique as he looks to focus his footballers away from fanciful title talk in the papers.
Valencia have to look in two directions at the same time – upwards in the event of a loss for Atlético, and also downwards with Sevilla three points adrift in fifth and steaming ahead in a bid to show off completely by qualifying for the Champions League both by finishing fourth and by winning the Europa League for the second year in succession. Villarreal are fixed into sixth, leaving a scramble for what would become one European spot below, should Barcelona win the Copa del Rey and leave the gap vacant.
Málaga, Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol are the teams currently in prime position to challenge of seventh, and where the feeling in England is ABEL – Anything But the Europa League – Spanish sides actively enjoy the experience of pretty much doubling the size of their seasons. Sevilla certainly thrive on that, anyway.
Down at the bottom, Córdoba are already relegated and their end to the season could well resemble the final scenes of The Commitments in terms of inter-group fisticuffs. Poor old Eibar are second from bottom on 31 points and are lost and disconsolate as the club couldn’t even buy a win. Especially because that kind of business is now very much frowned upon by the authorities after decades of the most ludicrously dodgy relegation ‘battles’.
Granada, currently occupying the third relegation spot also on 31 points, looked sunk a few weeks ago. But a desperate change of coach from the gloomy, disciplinarian Abel Resino to the bouncy José Ramón Sandoval – one of the pillars of the current Rayo Vallecano success story – seems to have done the trick with back-to-back wins under his stewardship.
Deportivo are also in grave danger of returning to La Segunda, especially with the treat of a final match in the Camp Nou. This makes their home game with Levante an absolute whopper of a clash that will spell out the team’s destiny for the next few years.
With a fairly decent chance of a Spanish double in Europe this season, it is still a crying shame that the country’s domestic league was only actually completed after the say-so of a judge. What could La Liga’s sides achieve if its administrators were of the calibre of its players?