The title may be decided, but there’s still plenty to play for in La Liga’s final weekend.
Party at Camp Nou
Barcelona’s win over Atletico Madrid last week secured the club’s 23rd La Liga title. But before Luis Enrique’s side can continue on in pursuit of another record-breaking treble, one more game must be played. How that game will be played, however, is a question waiting to be answered.
While the trophy is probably on its way to Catalunya as we speak, Saturday’s game at the Nou Camp will be just as much about a departure as it will be about an arrival. The match against Deportivo La Coruna will likely be the last La Liga game in a Blaugrana shirt for captain and club standard-bearer, Xavi Hernandez. The 35-year-old will be moving to Qatari club Al Sadd at the season’s end, bringing an end to his 17-year Barcelona career. Whether or not Enrique will choose to start him or not, it’s fair to say he’ll be given a hero’s sending-off when he hoists the league trophy post-match. As the most decorated player in the club’s history, it’s the least he deserves.
Another ripple of Saturday’s game involves Barca’s opponents, Deportivo. The relegation-threatened side currently sit in 17th place, and just two points above the dropzone. Logical thought would have Barca winning, especially at home; but exactly what strength of a starting eleven Lucho decides to deploy could make all of the difference. Will he see this as an opportune time to rest his best team before their impending Copa del Rey and Champions League finals? Or will he instead use it as one last tune-up 90 for those same starters? Either way, the Brancoazuis will be playing for their lives.
Quest for Fourth
Just because the league title was wrapped up in the penultimate week, doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening at the top of La Liga. Despite the current 13-point drop-off from 5th-to-6th place, the race for Champions League spots remains hot. Both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have secured their places in next year’s competition, the 4th and final place is undecided going into the final matchday. 4th is currently held by Valencia on 74 points, with Sevilla just a single point behind in 5th.
After missing out on Europe last season, Valencia have undergone a makeover through new manager Nuno Espirito Santo. The Portuguese boss has turned Los Che into a steel-curtain, only allowing 30 goals this season (third-best in La Liga). With defenders Nicolas Otamendi, Shkodran Mustafi, and Jose Luis Gaya all growing into stalwarts over the campaign, Valencia are terribly difficult to score against. They’ll be visiting Almeria on Saturday, who will need to win — at least — to avoid relegation.
With a Europa League final coming up next week, Sevilla have the chance to put an emphatic cap on an amazing season. As one of Spain’s premier and most watchable teams, the Rojiblancos always seem to play to win. Their seven league draws to Valencia’s eleven perfectly illustrates the do-or-die philosophy championed by Sevilla boss Unai Emery. It’s a strategy that will be put to the test on Saturday when they visit Malaga. With Valencia holding the head-to-head tiebreaker against Sevilla, Emery’s boys must bring home a victory if they hope to qualify for next year’s Champions League. Of course, that might not even be enough.
You Are Going Down
Four teams remain in this season’s La Liga relegation race: Granada (34 points), Deportivo (34 points), Eibar (32 points), and Almeria (32 points). Two of them will no longer be Primera sides by the end of the weekend.
Granada have the pleasure of being the most in-form of the four “contenders.” The Nazaries have won their last three Liga matches; enough of a spike to take them to 16th place after spending much of the season in danger.
Unfortunately, they’ll be hoping to get a result against a significantly superior Atletico Madrid, who’ll want to end the season on a high-note after forfeiting their league title to Barcelona last week.
Of course, things look to be difficult for Deportivo this week as well. As previously mentioned, Depor, who sit in 17th place, will visit a party-induced Camp Nou on Saturday. Whether or not Deportivo will face a full-strength Barcelona is the critical question. Either way, it’s a treacherous task to play the champions on any given day. And needing a result on-the-day makes is that much worse.
If any of these teams deserve a movie made about them, it’d definitely be 18th place Eibar. After catapulting up Spain’s lower-leagues, and scraping together spare change just to be able to play in the top-flight, Eibar are the undisputed darlings of La Liga. But losing 15 of their last 17 matches is a recipe for disaster. After spending much of the campaign in the top-half, relegation would be one tragic ending to a near-sparkling for the Armeros. They’ll welcome Cordoba on Saturday, who’ve been already relegated for weeks now. That sounds like a good thing, but when pride’s at stake, anything can, and tends to, happen. It’s as simple as this: Eibar need to win.
Besides Eibar and Cordoba, it’s 19th place Almeria with the worst form in the La Liga, having failed to win in five matches. The Indalicos will need a victory as they welcome Valencia — who have a CL place to play for — to the Juegos Mediterraneos on Saturday. As with Eibar, a draw will do nothing for Almeria; they need to win.