Alaves and Eibar played out a 1-1 draw at the Mendizorroza after a snooze fest of a first half was followed by an exciting second period.
Takashi Inui scored against his former side just before the hour mark with a delightful finish from a swift counter attack. However, Barcelona loanee Marc Cardona equalised for Eibar in the 71st minute to ensure spoils were shared.
We take a look at the talking points from this game between two over-achieving sides in La Liga.
JONY AND CALLERI SET THE TONE
In truth, Alaves were left to rue several missed opportunities, most of which were the result of some exquisite play from Jony and Jonathan Calleri.
Jony’s hard running throughout the game caused the visitors all sorts of trouble. It paid dividends when he accelerated away as an Eibar corner was cleared in the second half and he neatly cut the ball inside from the right channel for Inui to march into the box and score.
Calleri was the best player on the pitch and deserved an assist of his own.
The 25-year-old was everywhere and proved a menace for the Eibar defence, laying on three key passes. He set up Borja Baston for a simple finish, but the striker skied it and hence prevented the hosts from enjoying an early lead.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF INUI
Ever since his hyped move to Real Betis last season, former Eibar midfielder Inui has been far from his best. After a promising performance in the World Cup, the Japan international joined Quique Setien to start a new journey in his career but it just wasn’t meant to be.
It was not long before Betis decided to loan him out and found suitors in Alaves. Inui has now scored in successive games for the Basque team and is slowly getting into the groove. There is no doubt about his quality as he had shown promise during his time at Eibar and was one of the best players for Japan in the World Cup.
Admittedly, the 30-year-old was not at his best against Eibar. He missed a couple of simple opportunities and gave the ball away easily at times. However, he has now scored two important goals in two successive games – the winner against Villarreal and opener against Eibar – and will be feeling more confident about himself for the remainder of the season.
Inui’s confidence could be the key for Alaves as they look to book a Champions League spot from their remaining fixtures.
EIBAR NEED TO SHOW MORE CONSISTENCY
Eibar were not particularly at their best in this Basque derby. In fact, they could easily have been 3-1 losers, had Alaves converted well.
That said, the visitors responded well to going a goal down and showed real grit in the last 20 minutes or so. Jose Mendilibar’s substitutions worked brilliantly and eventually earned them a point.
Marc Cucurella added some width after coming on and did well to link-up with Pape Diop on the left while the other substitute, Cardona scored a sweet volley to make it 1-1.
Clearly, it was not a bad day for the visitors but they need to up the ante and show some consistency if they are to challenge for a European spot.
Eibar are now one point behind a Europa League play-off spot, although Valencia and Real Betis have a game in hand and can leave the Basque team four points shy of the coveted spot.
They are not expected to make it to Europe and are doing well by stabilising themselves as a mid-table club, but what a story it will be, should they propel themselves into the qualification spots.
The Spanish giants will no doubt be licking their wounds from their comprehensive defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu against Ajax but a return to domestic action provides an opportunity to move on from an unceremonious elimination from European competition.
Their season appears destined to end without silverware and speculation of an imminent managerial change is rife but league proceedings must still be navigated to arrest this slide.
LAST CHANCE SOLARI
It hasn’t been all bad under Santiago Solari. His appointment following Madrid’s stunning decline during Julen Lopetegui’s brief reign did pull the team out of a nosedive before they could spiral out of control.
A former Los Blancos player himself, Solari injected young blood into Madrid’s aging first team but the cracks remained and over the past fortnight, it all unravelled with a series of disastrous results. Back-to-back El Clasico defeats eliminated them from the Copa del Rey in the semi-finals and extinguished any slender hopes of mounting a late title charge.
Finally, a 4-1 capitulation at home against a vibrant young Ajax side ended a three-year defence of their Champions League crown in midweek. All the while, Solari has stood helplessly on the sidelines as calls for a new man at the helm grow in decibel.
Madrid travel to Valladolid having lost four of their last five games in all competitions. Solari will not be given the reins next season, this much is certain. Further embarrassment though may well lead to an undignified exit for the former Castilla coach.
Such is Madrid’s desire for a change of script that a recall for Jose Mourinho – sacked by Chelsea and Manchester United in the last four years – is firmly on the table. Solari must at the very least steer the club to a Champions League berth for next season without any drama in order to avoid a premature departure which could tarnish his managerial career while still in its infancy.
A REAL MESS
Every dark cloud has a silver lining and while this season slips away from them, at least Madrid can consider themselves fortunate to meet a side enduring an even worse run than their own on Sunday.
Valladolid have been slipping perilously close to the drop zone in recent weeks, picking up just one point from the last five outings. Madrid may be all over the shop in defence, but it would take a special kind of incompetence from their back-line to be stretched by Sergio Soriano’s side.
La Albivioletas have scored just once in their last five games and hold the worst scoring record in La Liga this season having managed just 20 goals so far.
At an average of 0.77 goals per game, Valladolid’s lack of creativity and dearth of goalscorers means a swift return to the Segunda Division is growing increasingly likely.
BRAHIM’S TIME TO SHINE
Solari’s faith in youth has been one of the bright sparks during his time in charge and he would do well to further that narrative while he’s still in the job. With Vinicius Junior injured, he could call upon another burgeoning talent in Brahim Diaz.
Spoken in the same breath as the likes of Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden during his time at Manchester City, much is expected of the 19-year-old attacking midfielder. Madrid are sorely lacking in creativity from midfield, evidenced by the fact that crossing from wide areas seemed to be their only mode of attack against Ajax.
Given the current mood at Madrid, there’s nothing like the emergence of a prodigal young talent to lift spirits and generate renewed hope for the future. Diaz’s decision to leave City was fueled by his desire for first team action and now would be the ideal time for Madrid to offer him just that. The young Spaniard could make for a welcome distraction from a rare, trophyless season.
Atletico Madrid’s on-loan striker Alvaro Morata says he is feeling very happy and settled at the capital club.
The Spaniard had to endure a tough time at Chelsea where he struggled to adapt and drew lots of criticism for a lack of goals.
Morata scored a brace in a 2-0 win against Real Sociedad on Sunday to keep the pressure on Barcelona in the title race.
“Forwards are always judged by their goals, but on the whole I am happy with how well I have adapted,” he told beIN Sports.
“I am happy because I have had a difficult time in recent seasons. My teammates have made it very easy for me to adapt to life at the club.”
The Catalan giants are seven points clear of Atletico but Morata is confident that his team will fight until the end, hoping to turn things around.
“When you are not just depending on your own results, you just have to do your job and hope,” added Morata, 26.
“We have a chance and if we continue in this way we will win every game between now and the end of the season.
“We will fight to the end of the season.”