Real Madrid close in on Barcelona’s lead with Eibar thumping and more in this weekend’s La Liga action.
Capital Cruelty for Eibar
Real Madrid are now within striking distance of league-leaders Barcelona as they handily defeated Eibar 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. While the three points helps Real Madrid’s title hopes, the loss adds to an already terrible run of recent games for the visitors.
One club’s ground holds 81,000 people; the other’s, just 6,000. One squad has 18 players valued at over €10 million each; the other only has one player valued at over €3 million. One club has been in Spain’s top-flight since 1929; the other just got there for the first time this season.
There’s no shock that this was the narrative heading into Eibar’s visit of the Bernabeu on Saturday. And it should be. Very rarely does one of Europe’s elite leagues get a cinderella story quite like Eibar’s. I wrote about their La Liga journey earlier in the season, when their endeavors were still nice and shiny. And when they were winning. Since then, the wheels have really fallen off for the small Basque club. They’ve managed only one win in their last 13 matches going back to the middle of January.
Much of Eibar’s downfall can be attributed to the departure of Raul Albentosa. The towering central defender helped Eibar to their remarkable top-ten placement during the first-half of their Liga campaign, in which they seemed to be destined for a historic finish. Then out of nowhere, Eibar sold Albentosa to English Championship side Derby County in January. The move initially felt ill-advised for both parties, a notion that has been proven doubly true as time has passed. Eibar’s defense has fallen to pieces, meanwhile Albentosa has only managed four appearances for Derby. The Armeros are now just three points outside of the dropzone. Relegation seemed a world away from Eibar back in December, now it’s a very real possibility.
A Little Taste of Home Cooking
Whether it’s the presence of like-minded brethren, the recognition of spatial points in a familiar area, or just an abstract, unexplainable reason, home fortresses exist in sports. Playing within your own confines is an unrivaled advantage for anyone, anywhere. (Yes, anomalies exist; some sides’ fortunes reflect the inverse, but those are normally teams in genuine crises.) For Sevilla, the Sanchez Pizjuan has turned itself into a stadium of rare quality this season. Coming into Saturday, the Rojiblancos were the only La Liga side yet to lose on their own turf this campaign; in fact, they hadn’t lost at home in 31 games. It’s become one of those grounds you never want to visit, especially if you’re in the middle of a title race.
Therefore it felt appropriate that a formidable Barcelona side left Sevilla on Saturday with merely one point. The Catalans, however, will ultimately begrudge the final score as they squandered a two-goal lead after Lionel Messi and Neymar had put them ahead in the early in the first-half. Although, to be fair, the lead felt especially fragile solely because of the tenacious venue in which the match was taking place. Everyone watching knew Sevilla were going to make a game of it, and they did.
In the second half, the Rojiblancos began capitalizing on Barca’s defensive errors. Their first goal came when Ever Banega successfully tried Claudio Bravo’s hand from distance, the Chilean only managing to get his fingertips to the ball before it struck the back of the net. The second came in the 84th after a Gerard Pique giveaway lead to a brilliant counterattacking goal started by Jose Reyes and finished off by Kevin Gameiro.
The victory brings Sevilla level on points with Valencia but outside of the top-four on goal-differential. For Barca, the defeat is equally impactful, as second-place Real Madrid now sit only two points back. With a grueling schedule ahead for the Catalans, this result could very well prove to be a turning point of their season. Or it could be just the kind of wake-up-call they need to inspire a strong finish.
Finally, of all the stellar team performances in La Liga this weekend, there’s one that deserves singling out. Celta Vigo’s 6-1 rout of Rayo Vallecano wasn’t only the best team showing of the matchday, but maybe the whole damn season. There are too many individual contributions to point out, but a few of Celta Vigo’s players demand mentioning.
Homegrown talent Santi Mina will grabs most of the headlines, as the 19-year-old became the youngest player in Primera history to score four goals. The other two were added by Celta’s top scorer Joaquin Larrivey, taking his season total to eleven.
Furthermore, Chilean winger Fabian Orellana amassed a ridiculous ten statistical dribbles to go along with an assist, while Nolito proved once again to be one of the league’s supreme playmakers, tallying three assists (eleven on the season, second to only Messi and Ronaldo) through six key passes. WhoScored gave both Orellana and Nolito perfect ten match ratings for their displays. A well deserved plaudit for two extremely gifted and exciting footballers.