Drama, comedy and the 'Freak Candidate'
Only one more La Liga match to go and drama keeps mounting, especially in the relegation zone. On Saturday Recreativo and Numancia were finally condemned to play Segunda Divisón football next season, which cleared things up slightly at the bottom half of the table. However, up to five teams will be fighting to avoid the remaining relegation spot until the very last second next weekend.
The three most likely candidates to become the third relegated side, Osasuna, Sporting and Getafe, all managed to win their Saturday matches. Their successful weekend did not get them away from trouble, but dragged another two teams which looked safe a few weeks ago, Valladolid and Betis, down to the fight for La Liga survival.
Osasuna beat an unrecognisable Barcelona side plagued with bench players in a boring match that only got interesting when the referee harshly sent off Barça's 17-year old Marc Muniesa. Josep Guardiola complained vehemently and also saw a red card for his troubles, showing a surprising lack of self-composure in a match that, at least for the Catalans, was only a pretext to celebrate their 19th title. Barcelona and their gaffer won't be able to feel at peace until they play their Champions League final match.
Sporting de Gijón managed to scrap a hard fought away victory at Valladolid with an amazing performance by their young keeper Cuéllar. The pucelanos only got three points out of the last 30; this awful record has taken them from a privileged position to attract plenty of white cases, to actually having to get a result from their last match at Betis if they want to stay up.
Getafe finally sent Numancia to the Segunda División with another goal from in-form striker Soldado. Former Real Madrid player José Miguel González ''Míchel'' has gotten some life into a classy side that should have done better this season. Surprisingly enough, all five teams depend on their own result to stay in the Primera División. By all accounts, the most interesting match next weekend will be the nail-bitter encounter between Betis and Valladolid. This fixture could decide which team goes down, but in any case white cases will fly around the country during the week to generate motivation in those teams who play for nothing, no doubts about that...
The drama is not restricted to the bottom-half of the table. Valencia lost all possibilities of Champions League football next season after a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Villarreal. This means serious budget constraints for the chés next season, and will very likely have to sell David Villa, David Silva and Antonio Mata.
Future look rosier for Villarreal, who guaranteed a Europa League spot with a sequence of great results against Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia; their striker Joseba Llorente is finally living up to his promise. Los amarillos did not seem to feel the lengthy absence of Marcos Senna and Santiago Cazorla, two of their best players, and still have an off chance of sneaking into the Champions League zone if Atlético do not get a point in their final home match against Almería.
That seems highly unlikely, though. After a hesitant beginning, Abel Resino, the rojiblancos' gaffer, has found the right approach to steer the ship, with the invaluable help of Diego Forlán. His hat trick against Athletic de Bilbao took his Liga tally to 31, two more than Samuel Eto'o.
The situation reminisces of 2005 almost in a spooky way. At the end of that season, the Cameroonian was also leading the Pichichi (top scorer) race against Villarreal's Forlán, four goals ahead with only two matches to go. Eto'o was unable to score in those last two matches. While the Cameroonian looked distressed and wasted countless chances, Forlán scored a hat trick on the 37th match precisely against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, and then pocketed the trophy with a double in the last encounter of the season.
''Life is easier with Forlán in your team'', said Marca on Sunday, which could also be said of Eto'o in the first half of the season. His recent dip in form will be worrying more than a few at Can Barça, with the Champions League final on Wednesday.
Sevilla witnessed another emotional moment when their supporters bid their farewell to their brave captain, Javi Navarro. Born in Valencia, injured Navarro decided to retire after eight seasons playing for Sevilla, years in which the club saw their most successful spell ever. With their Saturday win, the sevillistas guaranteed the third place, another fantastic achievement that was celebrated in grand style by their fans.
But if there's plenty of drama everywhere at La Liga, the comedy, albeit mostly unintentional, comes only from one place. After their remarkable chase of Barcelona ended in their 2-6 defeat, Real Madrid have lost all their competitive tension. On Sunday they were handed their fourth defeat in a row by Mallorca. Their opposition has managed to score 15 goals in those four matches, a clear prove that the season is already over for the madridistas.
Only the previous week, the TV had showed a clearly overweight Julian Faubert napping on the bench, a telling image that says plenty about the state of the matters in the Casa Blanca. On Sunday, the only applause of the evening went to Fabio Cannavaro, the Italian centre back that will return to Juventus after three seasons with Real Madrid. The team was often booed, and a sense of growing irritation was evident among the faithful merengues.
Their elections process has also become a laughable subject. Juan Onieva, the only candidate with any resemblance of a chance to beat Florentino Pérez, presented his credentials in a press conference last Wednesday. He was introduced by his Second Vice President, Fernando Martínez Blanco, a bizarre character that only needed 10 minutes of airtime to effectively terminate Onieva's hopes of winning.
Martínez' odd behaviour (nervous tics, voice inflection, non-stop scratching of face and legs) and his even odder speech (''Barack Obama loves Real Madrid since the team played the 2000 Champions League final dressed in black'') during the press conference quickly became an easy target for the media, who baptised Onieva ''the freak candidate''.
Two days and thousands of jokes later, Onieva decided to quit. The other potential candidate, Eduardo García, presented a civil action against the election rule that require candidates to present a guarantee for 15% of the club's budget, which would amount to €57m. Hardly the first step of a winner...
The lack of opposition and the disheartening end of a season with no titles makes things easy enough for a landslide Florentino win. If there is no other candidate, he could become president as soon as the 1st of June. In the meantime, he will have to work hard to get his signings going: the promised top level gaffer seems more difficult every passing week, after both Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho allegedly refused to coach Real Madrid.
But before the relegation drama is resolved and the Real Madrid's election soap opera is over, we will have the privilege of watching one of the most anticipated matches in a long time. The Champions League Final between the reigning champions, Manchester United, and Barcelona has everything to become a classic. Both leagues have won 11 European Champions titles, so this match will put one ahead, even if it's only for one year. Do not miss that one.