Final Day of La Liga: Upsets and Expectations
You know how firework displays do their finales by shooting off all at once, in one big, spectacular smorgasbord of color? That was kind of like Saturday and the end of the 2014-2015 year’s La Liga season.
Four matches played at once; the television stations were overwhelmed and despite the listed schedules, played them haphazardly. Twitter was afire keeping up with the goal counts in all games (except Granada-Atletico, which was 0-0). The second half reminded me of breathless World Cup days, when multiple games play at once and you reschedule all your business because you need your phone to be glued to your hand so you can follow it all at once.
Everyone had something to play for on Saturday except Barcelona, who had already won the title last week. This weekend was about the relegation battle and the fight for third and fourth place. The same 90 minutes held changes for everyone. According to AS, there were 81 different possible outcomes from the four matches.
At half time, Almeria, Depor, and Cordoba were being relegated. By the end, it was Eibar, Almeria, and Cordoba who went down.
Here’s a look at the four matches that mattered on Saturday.
Granada vs. Atletico Madrid (FT 0-0)
This was the lynch-pin match, where a goal from either side to secure three points could have changed everything. If Atletico lost, they stood to slip to fourth place and lose out on next season’s Champions League group stage. If Granada lost, they would be relegated.
Granada failed to take the game to Atleti, who in turn seemed content to sit back and wait. Granada had been successful over the past few weeks under new manager José Ramón Sandoval, not dropping any points since he took over, but they were without key players Jeison Murillo, Riki, and Adrián Colunga, who were injured, and Javi Márquez and Lass Bangoura were suspended.
Diego Simeone’s irritation festered on the touch line despite his remarks that a draw would be fine. The most eventful moments of the match came when the crowd, following the Almeria-Valencia match on their phones, roared every time Valencia scored (thus pushing Almeria closer to relegation, instead of Granada).
Eibar vs. Cordoba (FT 3-0)
Little Eibar enjoyed a huge 3-0 win over Cordoba, who was the only certain relegation. The victory was beautiful, the fight full of heart. But it wasn’t enough to save Eibar from a return to Segunda.
The small Basque club won promotion into La Liga this season in a story of impossible odds, facing financial walls and climbing right over them with the support of fans and kind hearts all over the world. Eibar was free of debt and self-sustaining, but had the smallest budget in the Segunda division last year. It was forced to €1.7 million to comply with the rule that requires every team to have a capital equal to 25% of the average expenses of all sides in the second division, excluding the two clubs with the biggest outgoings and the two with the smallest. Eibar managed it by offering a share issue that raised pledges from all over the world.
For Cordoba, it was yet another thrashing in a season of disappointment; it took them 42 years to return to the first division, but once there, they simply did not have the chops to remain.
Eibar’s story this season has been a fantastic one. Everyone wanted to see them remain. And yet, in the end, they were sacrificed in the dog-eat-dog world of La Liga points after Depor eked out a fantastic draw against mighty Barcelona to remain in the top flight.
I know I’m not alone in hoping this isn’t the last we see of Eibar in the first division.
Barcelona vs. Deportivo (FT 2-2)
This match was one of the biggies. First there was the terrific comeback Depor managed, snatching two late goals from Barcelona, who had scored early. Then there was the big farewell to a legend, Xavi, who completed his last-ever season with Barcelona as the whole team wore shirts reading “Gracies Xavi.” Finally, there was the hoisting of the league trophy at the end.
It all looked fairly dire for Depor after Messi scored in the fifth minute from a close-range header, and then again in the 59th minute, in a lovely bit of choreography with Neymar.
Most bottom-dwelling teams would be calling for a taxi at that point, but instead, Depor fought. Pérez Martínez pulled a goal in the 67th minute and then 9 minutes later, Salomao equalized by shooting through after Haris Medunjanin's free-kick was blocked. It was enormous—and enough to keep Depor in the top flight for another season.
Xavi’s last time at the Camp Nou in a Barca shirt will be next weekend for the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao, and he will likely make his final appearance for the club at the Champions League final against Juventus on June 6 in Berlin. Expect further emotional farewells at both matches.
Depor had as much to celebrate as Barcelona—don’t forget the tremendous effort they put forth at the darkest hour-- but in the end it was Xavi and Barca’s moment amid a sea of tears, confetti, and champagne.
Almeria vs. Valencia (FT 2-3)
Oh, how Almeria fought. And for the first half, it looked as though they would overcome. For Atleti, Valencia losing was insurance against maintaining fourth place, but for Grenada, an Almeria win meant Granada would take their place in the dreaded red relegation zone.
For Almeria, however, the loss was an enormous blow, for they face a three point deduction, which was imposed by FIFA for a €4,500 late payment owed to Danish club Aalborg over the signing of defender Michael Jakobsen in 2010. Almeria has appealed the decision, which has been delayed until next week.
If the club had beat Valencia and won their appeal, they could have stayed in La Liga.
Valencia’s win secured them fourth place and the Champions League. Their win ensures Sevilla retain fifth place (and Europa), after Sevilla beat Malaga, 3-2.