A vital weekend in Spain ends with a beaming Barcelona relegating poor Cordoba, and Real Madrid and Sevilla providing a classic at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
Barca relegate Cordoba
Barcelona kept their lead atop La Liga on Saturday with a massive 8-0 victory over cursed Cordoba. Luis Suarez scored his first ever hat-trick for Barcelona, while Lionel Messi supplied a brace of his own. Ivan Rakitic, Gerard Pique, and Neymar (p) scored the others.
While the early ticks of the match included some nervy moments, tricking all of us viewers into the possibility of an upset, it wasn’t long before Barcelona brought the hammer down on Cordoba. The first goal came by way of Rakitic in the 42nd minute. By the 53rd, Barca were up four goals, the result in the bag.
In recent weeks, Barcelona have become a terrifying proposition for any and all opponents. Not only do they employ as scary of an attacking trio as world football has ever seen in Messi, Suarez, and Neymar, but they’re each in top-notch form right now. Not to mention, those three guys actually like and look out for one another. They assist on each other’s goals, smile when each other scores, and favor teamplay above individual recognition — as we saw Saturday when Messi graciously forfeited his penalty-kick-taking privileges to Neymar, who had yet to score on the day. Bayern Munich — fresh off of winning their third straight Bundesliga title — now await the Blaugrana on Wednesday in a tasty Champions League semifinal. Both sides are flying high right now, but only one team has MSN.
As for Cordoba, their temporary stay in La Liga comes to a horrific end. The sole silver lining in the Caliphas’ relegation cloud is that they’ll hopefully be able to commit fully to the efforts of their stellar youth academy, rather than rely wholly on hit-or-miss top-flight loanees. With longtime club member Jose Antonio Romero likely to stay on as manager, the opportunity to rebuild responsibly from within is definitely there. The path back to the top might be long and arduous, but it is for everyone else, too.
Sevilla’s fortress falls to Madrid in Classic
Real Madrid at Sevilla was pipped to be a classic from the drop, and it didn’t underwhelm. With the visitors needing to keep touching distance with Barcelona — who had won earlier in the day — and the hosts trying to secure Champions League football for next season, there was everything to play for Saturday evening at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
Speaking of the Sanchez Pizjuan, one of the big storylines coming into the matchday was that Sevilla hadn’t lost in their home stadium in over a year. Winning in the premier fortress of European soccer was always going to be a task, even for giants like Real Madrid. Though, with the current form of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Iker Casillas, we should’ve known they’d be up for it.
In the end, Madrid found a way to trump the magic of the Pizjuan, and walked out of the dungeon with a well-earned 2-3 win. A Ronaldo hat-trick was enough to hold off second-half strikes from Carlos Bacca (p) and Vicente Iborra.
Although the visitors led the hosts for the majority of the 90 minutes, the late onslaught from Sevilla provided as intense of a finish as you’re likely to see anywhere throughout Europe’s top-flight this season. Even at 1-3 down with less than fifteen minutes to go, Sevilla were inspired enough by their passionate crowd to batter Madrid’s goal incessantly with quality opportunities born out of well worked football. Players like Iborra, Bacca, and Aleix Vidal certainly thrusted themselves into Andalusian folklore through their stellar performances, even if the end result was a loss. And if it wasn’t for the blessed keeping play of Casillas, that result definitely would’ve been a lot different.
And about that Ronaldo lad.
Just hours after Messi had taken over in the pichichi race, Ronaldo blew by his Argentine rival with his 40th, 41st, and 42nd goals of the campaign. The Portuguese’s hat-trick, as well as the long-awaited return of Gareth Bale — the Welshman brilliantly assisted in CR7’s third — spells danger for all incoming foes, including Barcelona, who still lead Los Blancos by a mere two points at the top of the table.
Both Madrid and Sevilla now face season-defining encounters midweek in European competition. Madrid will visit Italian champions Juventus in the first-leg of a star-studded Champions League semifinal on Tuesday. Sevilla will further attempt to defend their Europa League crown as they welcome Fiorentina on Thursday. Crunch-time really begins now.
Valencia crush Eibar’s fading hopes
Valencia moved three points ahead, and one step closer to securing Champions League football next season, with a 3-1 win over Eibar on Sunday at the Mestalla.
Nothing about Valencia’s superb season is an accident. A savvy mixture of blooming homegrown talent and quality transfers, not to mention a very promising young manager in Nuno Espirito Santo, has resulted in a dangerous and consistent Los Che.
Obviously, with La Liga’s second best defensive record, centre-halves Nicolas Otamendi and Shkodran Mustafi deserve the highest honors for their contributions. Otamendi’s commitment, which includes scoring the opener against Eibar while nursing a severe shoulder injury, and Mustafi’s elite vision and range of passing, provide an invaluable asset for the Bats.
But don’t look past the captain, Dani Parejo. Not only did his second half strike serve as the match-winner, but it was his blistering free-kick that preceded the deflection that Paco Alcacer put away for Valencia’s third goal. Parejo operates as Los Che’s metronome in midfield, whilst also leading the team in league goals with 11. Last week I tweeted that Parejo was well overdue in receiving a Spain call-up from Vicente del Bosque. His recent performances has just about guaranteed that such will happen soon.
All wasn’t pleasant at the Mestalla on Sunday, however. For a club soaring to new heights just months ago, Eibar have now fallen off a cliff. After spending much of the season’s first half in the top-10, the Armeros are now just one point from safety in 16th place, having lost 15 of their last 17 matches, with only one win in that time. Regardless of how great they were in 2014 and how endearing their underdog story is, they’re showing historical relegation form. With 17th place Almeria putting together a couple of wins recently, and 18th place Deportivo finding a knack for grinding out draws, the prospects don’t look good for the Basques.