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Euro Bites: La Liga - Suarez is King, Bale leads Real but late slip-ups hurt relegation fighters

This weekend in Spain saw everything change, albeit briefly, before reverting back to normal. Real Madrid and Atletico both enjoyed a stay as the top dogs before Barcelona batted away Sporting Gijon to reclaim their slender lead. Celta Vigo and Athletic Club secured Europa League football for next season while it remains tight down at the bottom with several teams in the thick of the relegation battle.


Luis Suarez is more ruthless than Joffrey Baratheon

This time last weekend and the footballing world has begun to question the invincibility of this Barcelona side. Let’s skip over the fact the very same one won five trophies last year, naturally, to predict the demise of Luis Enrique’s best ever squad. “Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez are burnt out!” they cried. Well, in the past seven days, they’ve been on fire.

After smashing eight goals past a disastrous Deportivo side they faced relegation-threatened Sporting Gijon at the Camp Nou. The pressure was on as they saw both Real Madrid and Atletico record victories earlier so nothing less than a win was required – and they duly obliged.

Messi displayed glimpses of his old, untouchable self but the undoubted star of the show was Luis Suarez. Fresh after scoring four against Deportivo he matched that with another four against Sporting – the first time in La Liga history a player has recorded back-to-back four goal hauls. Barcelona have been searching for their ideal ‘number 9’ since Zlatan Ibrahimovic left and in Suarez, they’ve arguably found the best striker in world football right now.

Penalties, tap-ins or his thirst for human flash, it doesn’t matter, he’s made Barcelona a more dangerous proposition since his arrival. A common criticism, even amongst the glory years, was that Barcelona didn’t have a killer instinct or a Plan B. They do now. Suarez’s eight goals in two games moved him to the top of the Pichichi standings with 34 league goals – he has 53 in all competitions.

Real Madrid are Bale-d out by the fantastic Welshman

Cristiano Ronaldo is injured. Although judging by last weekend’s come-from-behind victory over Rayo Vallecano, it might not be long before ‘fears’ becomes ‘feared’. Gareth Bale started alongside Karim Benzema but the Frenchman, not for the first time this season, limped off before the break leaving the ‘BBC’ down to just ‘B’ – but ‘B’ was brilliant.

It isn’t often you’ll see a Real Madrid starting line-up without its talismanic superstar from Portugal featuring. Before limping off in the dying seconds against Villarreal, he hadn’t missed a single minute of Real’s campaign. People often wonder if Bale’s growth is stunted by Cristiano being in the same team. Both like to loiter around the wing, cut inside and unleash hell on the opposition’s goal. There’s a risk of stepping on each other’s toes, certainly, but we got a rare glimpse of what Real would look like minus Ronaldo – and it didn’t appear all too different.

Bale’s display against Rayo was similar to ones we’ve seen from Cristiano in the past. With the team struggling to create anything, they increasingly turned to the Welshman in the hope he would produce something special – and boy did he deliver. A now trademark header got Real back into the game before he capitalised on a defensive howler to burst away and score the winner. “He’s very happy to make the difference. We needed him today and he was phenomenal,” said Zinedine Zidane after the match. Cristiano Mk II?

Celta Vigo and Athletic Club secure their places in Europe

Granada tonight). After finishing last year strongly with just one defeat in their final nine fixtures, the club began this campaign even better. Victories over Sevilla, Barcelona and Villarreal meant they even enjoyed a brief stay at the top of La Liga in October.

The injury to key man Nolito, ruling him out for two months, hurt their charge for a Champions League place as Celta lost six of their eight matches without him. The distraction of a Copa del Rey cup win also played its part, but Nolito is the glue which holds this team together. With him back in the saddle they’ve lost just once in the last ten. Europa League football is richly deserved.

It was all a bit more dramatic for Athletic Club as two very late goals earned them a point away to bottom club Levante. Truth be told, it looked like one of those days for Ernesto Valverde’s men as their opponents simply wanted it more. Similar to Nolito’s influence at Celta, there’s no doubt Athletic are a different animal without Aritz Aduriz.

That all changed within three minutes though. A hopeful shot from Susaeta, after good work from Iñaki Williams, took a wicked deflection to wrong-foot Diego Mariño in the Levante goal. Frustrated looks and shoulder shrugging followed but the home side only had two minutes to hold on, what could go wrong? Williams was again the provider as Mikel San Jose stroked home an equaliser in injury time. Once again, Europa League football richly deserved.

Honourable mentions: Las Palmas – what an end to the season it’s been for them, made light work of a poor Espanyol side to mathematically secure their place in next season’s La Liga. Sevilla – kings of the city once again as they eased past Real Betis in the ‘derbi’. Atletico Madrid – rivalling Leicester City for the amount of 1-0 victories they’ve earned this season. Dani Parejo – another peach of a freekick against Getafe.


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Euro Bites: La Liga - Suarez is King, Bale leads Real but late slip-ups hurt relegation fighters

Espanyol doing their best to enter the relegation fight

I’ve talked about sides being in ‘limbo’ a lot in the past few weeks as teams find themselves neither challenging for the European places nor staving off relegation, but Espanyol are in danger of over underestimating the power of unpredictability in football. Just ask Villarreal how cruel the last day of the season can be for sides that believe they’re untouchable.

April has been a horrible month for Constantin Galca as he looks to avoid following the Gary Neville route of joining a club midseason and being sacked before the end of it. Three losses and two draws make grim reading as they now find themselves just five points clear of the relegation zone with fixtures against Sevilla and Barcelona next up.

Espanyol need to be careful this doesn’t turn into a ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’ type ending. With a takeover complete and dreams of challenging the top sides in the not so distant future, it’s time Espanyol woke up – or they’ll be doing so in La Segunda.

Levante, Rayo and Getafe snatch disappointment from the jaws of victory

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Euro Bites: La Liga - Suarez is King, Bale leads Real but late slip-ups hurt relegation fighters

And it could’ve been a lot worse for the aforementioned Espanyol if these three sides all hadn’t dropped points from a winning position at the weekend. You sense when they look back at where it all went wrong, this is going to be one of the key moments.

Levante raced into a 2-0 lead against Athletic Club and seemed certain to pick up a vital three points to make up for the defeat against Granada midweek. Fans were soaking up the sun, posting selfies to their friends about how great their day was going.. until disaster struck. Two hammer blows in three minutes turned three points in one, and one just isn’t good enough.

Getafe welcomed rejuvenated Valencia to the Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium and were in luck, as Los Che desperately tried to demonstrate that their defensive errors weren’t fully out of their system yet. Dani Parejo’s glorious freekick gave the visitors the lead but Diego Alves’ refusal to touch the ball meant Getafe grabbed an equaliser. And then Aymen Abdennour, who has looked so good in recent weeks, decided to let the ball bounce and then inexplicably try to kick the ball instead of using his head. 2-1 Getafe, 20 minutes to go. A defensive error allowed Alvaro Negredo to squeeze through a couple of challenges before he squared for Paco Alcacer to make it 2-2 in the 83rd minute.

Rayo Vallecano probably didn’t expect to get anything out of their match against Real Madrid but, like Levante, after rushing into a 2-0 lead they must have dreamed of walking away with at least draw. Yet, like Levante, 2-0 wasn’t enough and in the end they were left empty-handed. The most frustrating part for Paco Jemez is how error-prone his players are, often making the wrong decision at crucial times and it cost them against a team with the quality Real Madrid possess.

Real Betis can’t even beat their neighbours at their worst

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Euro Bites: La Liga - Suarez is King, Bale leads Real but late slip-ups hurt relegation fighters

A lot has been said of the job Juan Merino has done since taking over from Pepe Mel but there is still plenty of work to do. City rivalries can throw up all kinds of surprises but this has developed into one of the most predictable around. Betis haven’t beaten Sevilla in the league since February 2012. Of course, you need to remember Betis were in another division for part of that time as well. Either way, it makes for grim reading.

In the last five fixtures between the two sides, in league and cup, Betis have failed to score a single goal against Sevilla but have conceded 10. Four of those five matches resulted in defeats with just a solitary draw.

This weekend should’ve been the moment it all changed as Sevilla went into the match in their worst form of the season, winless in five with four losses. Betis started the better of the two but created very little. When Sevilla found another gear though, and with Kevin Gameiro the main threat, it was only going one way. A thunderbolt from Coke added an exclamation mark to a rivalry which has quickly lost its competitiveness.

Honourable mentions: Standard of officiating – this year has seen far too many errors from the men in black. There’s a real issue to be resolved here especially if La Liga wishes to grow its brand. Villarreal – they’ve lost focus in the league with a European semi-final on the horizon. Diego Simeone – silly of him to ask the ball boy to throw another ball onto the pitch in an attempt to stop a Malaga counterattack. Abdennour – seriously, what was he thinking?

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