La Liga Weekend: The Race For Fourth Tightens Up
The race for fourth place got even tighter in La Liga this weekend. All three sides in contention, Valencia, Getafe, and Sevilla, had crucial tests to keep their Champions League dreams alive. Valencia travelling to Real Betis was a big game, but earlier, Getafe played host to Sevilla, which saw fourth place travel to fifth.
Race For Fourth Tightens Up in La Liga
The momentum in the race for fourth place has been swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Last weekend, Sevilla had taken fourth with a big-time win in El Gran Derby. This week they travelled to their closest rival for the spot, Getafe. The small club in south Madrid have been dreaming of the Champions League for a few weeks now. They’re a tough, nasty side that have been playing a lot more football than in past seasons.
Despite their history, they are a team that have to be taken seriously and dealt with, which Sevilla did not do. Getafe waxed Sevilla 3-0 with the major flashpoint being Sergio Escudero giving away a penalty and getting sent off just before half-time. His second yellow card meant Sevilla went into the break down by one man and two goals.
This is the moment where we have to talk about the referee, and we all know who this one was. Mateu Lahoz is, and will forever be, a showman. He makes the game more entertaining, if not frustrating for everyone with a stake.
The most controversial moment was Lahoz’s decision to send off Escudero. He had already been given a yellow for dissent after the first-hand ball penalty. Now Lahoz came back after a trip to the VAR monitor and gave him his marching orders, presumably for a deliberate handball. Of all the bad Lahoz decisions through the years, this is his most impactful of this year.
Jorge Molina smashed home the penalty to give Getafe the game. It never got any better for Sevilla, even after a red card for Getafe’s Djene Dakonman made it ten against ten. However, as big a miss as it was for Sevilla, it was an even bigger win for Getafe. They take a two-point lead over Sevilla in the fourth place race.
Real Betis 1-2 Valencia
The other team in the race, Valencia, travelled to the Benito Villamarin to take on Real Betis. Valencia has been playing some outstanding football since the turn of the year, they’ve only lost two league games in 2019 and they have already beaten Betis over two legs in a Copa Del Rey semi-final this season.
It’s a great match-up for Marcelino’s Valencia; a team well suited to cede possession and counter-attack. Which is exactly what they did against Betis. Los Beticos always have the majority of possession. They had 66% of it in this game, and 23 shots, though only seven were on target.
As tends to happen with Betis, they did not capitalize on their outsized shot totals. Betis lost this game in a ten minute stretch on either side of half-time. In that stretch, Goncalo Guedes came to life. The ex-Paris Saint-Germain man has had an injury-filled struggle of a season but came up big on Sunday. A goal on each side of the break gave Valencia another crucial set of three points.
With Guedes playing well and a place booked in the Europa League semi-finals, it’s starting to look like a good season after all at Valencia. So much was made of their poor start this season, and whether Marcelino should keep his job. They stuck with him despite local pressure and it sure looks like the right decision.
The Race For Fourth
After 33 rounds of La Liga action here is how the top four stands. Barcelona have a comfortable nine-point lead at the top, followed by Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. Those three should surprise no one but, after them, it does get interesting. Right now, Getafe sit fourth on 54 points, Valencia fifth on 52 and Sevilla behind them on tiebreakers.
Valencia have all the horses, the money and the intent of getting back into the Champions League once again. Plus, they have the extra option of going for the Europa League. It gets even easier when you look at their remaining schedule. After Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, their toughest remaining game is probably at relegation-threatened Real Valladolid, if relegation hasn’t already been decided by the final day.
Finally, a word on our eventual champions. Barcelona held off Real Sociedad at home 2-1 to ensure they could win the title in the next week. If they win against Alaves on Tuesday, and Atletico lose to Valencia, they wrap it up midweek. If Atletico win, Barcelona will get the shot at the title at home against Levante next weekend.
This game is not going to make the title-winning highlight reel. Rather, this game goes into the ‘Sergio Busquets isn’t easily replaced’ file. Barcelona looked really poor while the 30-year-old La Masia product was sat on the bench. They looked sloppy, without any real ideas nor the cohesion expected of them.
The stats make things look even worse, Barcelona were held level in possession by Sociedad at the Camp Nou. Maybe that’s a hangover from the mid-week win over Manchester United, but Busquets is the more obvious answer. He was the only regular missing from the starting eleven, but this looked worse than last weekend’s Huesca performance.
It’s not a major concern, nor is it something too surprising. However, this team still need Sergio Busquets at his best to be their best. It’s important to remember with all the hype that gets placed on young midfielders. Frenkie de Jong might look like a really good young player, but they only made one Sergio Busquets.