Matchday 34: Saturday Recap
Eibar 3-0 Alavés
José Luis Mendilibar spoke in the build-up to the clash with Alavés about how badly his team were missing their fans. “I’m completely convinced that if our fans had been at Ipurúa, we wouldn’t have been in this situation,” he insisted. As Javi Calleja’s resurgent Alavés rolled through the Basque mountains, Eibar were still seeking their second home win of the season.
Alavés arrived unbeaten in four under Calleja, having climbed out of the relegation zone. Once the whistle blew, you wouldn’t have guessed it. It took just three minutes for Kike García’s determination to pay off, bobbling the ball through the defence and then putting the ball past Fernando Pacheco in goal.
It was that same determination in the opening minutes of the second half which put the tie to bed. As Edu Expósitowhipped in a cross, Florian Lejeune looked set to get therefirst, but a last burst of pace and a leg thrown out saw Kike make it two.
Eibar began to play with confidence and rhythm and Kike was hungry for his first ever LaLiga hat-trick, and he had to wait just nine further minutes for it to come. Afforded time and space inside the box, he cut back and thrashed an effort into the roof of the net.
A leader in every sense with the captain’s armband, he became Eibar’s leading Primera División goalscorer and recorded his best goal tally since his days with Real Murcia in Segunda seven years ago. While the records may mean a lot to Kike, they will mean even more should these three goals be the spark of a revival for an Eibar side who were on the verge of being cut adrift.
Elche 0-1 Atlético Madrid
All eyes were on the Estadio Martínez Valero and there was plenty of late drama to keep viewers entertained. With captain Koke on the bench following a knock in midweek, Atleti started the tie brightly, with Luis Suárez’s early effort ruled out for a marginal offside call. LosColchoneros kept the pressure up, showing an intensity which has lacked at times in recent weeks.
They got their reward when Marcos Llorente sent a shot goalwards on 23 minutes, taking a deflection off Dani Calvo as it beat Paulo Gazzaniga. Atlético continued to press, with a penalty being awarded and then chalked off by VAR, and were unfortunate not to be leading more convincingly by the break.
It was after half-time that the game changed.
Atlético came out of the dressing rooms sluggishly, allowing Elche to dominate possession. Where the visitors had 64% of the ball in the first 45 minutes, it was the complete reverse, literally, with Elche boasting 64% possession in the second half.
Koke and João Félix both came on as Diego Simeone sought to bring fresh impetus, but it didn’t work. Elche had five shots on goal in the second half, compared to one in the first, and Jan Oblak had to be at his best to keep them out.
In injury time, Elche got the breakthrough that Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla fans were dreaming of just as much as followers of the home side. A dubious free-kick sent a cross into the box and a falling Llorentehandled. Up stepped Fidel Castro. And he hit the woodwork. Oblak was inches off his line but it didn’t matter, as he didn’t touch the ball or influence the action, the sound of the ball cracking against the post almost as loud as the roars of frustration in in the Spanish capital and on the Catalan coast.
This was far from Atlético Madrid’s best, sitting deep and defending against a side battling relegation, but it was enough. And that Fidel Castro miss could have huge consequences at both ends of the table come the end of the season.
Huesca 1-0 Real Sociedad
A crucial game for both teams at El Alcoraz. Huesca came into it on the back of three consecutive defeats without scoring, and their revival under Pacheta had taken a nosedive. La Real had won their last two matches, consolidating their position in fifth and taking charge of the race for Europa League qualification.
Given the peril of their position, it was perhaps unsurprising to see Huesca having more intensity in the first half, as Rafa Mir and Sandro Ramírez both went close. At the other end, Álvaro Fernández denied in-form Alexander Isak with a strong left hand.
When the game seemed to be drifting towards a stalemate, Sandro came up with a moment of magic late on in proceedings. In the 87th minute, his devilish wide free-kick arrowed towards goal, and Aritz Elustondo could only direct it into his own net.
Huesca and Pacheta were understandably euphoric with the victory, which saw them end the day outside of the relegation zone once again. Five of their six LaLiga wins this season have come under Pacheta, who is giving them the belief and confidence they desperately needed.
As for La Real, they missed the chance to further strengthen their grip on fifth, and will hope that Real Valladolid will show similar powers of fight against Real Betis. The side from San Sebastián do have the cushion of the favourable head-to-head against Manuel Pellegrini’s men, should the sides finish level on points. Both the relegation scrap and the race for the Europa League are set to go to the wire.
Real Madrid 2-0 Osasuna
Sandwiched between the two legs of their Champions League semi-final with Chelsea, the pre-match talk was about selection and who would be rested ahead of the trip to London.
But Real Madrid still needed the win to maintain their title challenge, and they just about got over the line.
The reverse fixture ended 0-0, but was more memorable not for the match, but for the meteorology. Storm Filomena had grounded Los Blancos’ plane, with the game taking place in blizzard conditions in Pamplona.
This time around, the only Hazard was Eden, returning to the starting line-up for the first time since January, and he completed 72 minutes without any scares. He could well have an important say against his former club in midweek.
As for this game, it was a set piece which eventually unlocked the door for Real Madrid. Substitute Iscodelivered the corner and Éder Militão was the man who stepped up to score his first LaLiga goal, capping another notable performance. Then Casemiro, on his 200th LaLigaappearance for the club, added a second to make the final stages much more tranquil for the reigning champions.
Zinedine Zidane smiled, but worryingly, the game brought another injury, as Raphaël Varane was substituted at half-time with discomfort. Despite all the setbacks suffered by Real Madrid this season, this win extended their unbeaten run to 19 matches in all competitions, as they continue to fight for a double which would arguably rank as one of Zidane’s greatest achievements yet.
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