The La Liga title race may have been wrapped up two weeks ago, but heading into the penultimate weekend of the season there’s still plenty of intrigue around the league, with the relegation and European spots still to be decided.
Champions-elect Barcelona will be the centre of attention after their embarrassing loss to Liverpool in midweek sent them crashing out of the Champions League, while bitter rivals Real Madrid are never far from the headlines and have plenty of issues to resolve as the season comes to a close.
A different Madrid side is chasing a dream heading into this weekend – take a look at our talking points ahead of Sunday’s fixtures.
BARCELONA AT A CROSSROADS AFTER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE EXIT
In the wake of Barcelona’s disastrous Champions League exit, all eyes have turned to Ernesto Valverde. Two straight dominant league titles is impressive, but failure in Europe, and especially the near-identical way in which it has happened in two straight seasons – blowing three-goal first-leg leads in humiliating fashion away from home – has plenty clamouring for his sacking.
The board is reportedly not as dead set on getting rid of Valverde, largely due to a lack of alternatives. In the meantime, it’s hard to see what Valverde can do to strengthen his position. He’s in a no-win situation – poor performances against Getafe this weekend and Eibar to close the season will hurt him, but wins won’t do much to help.
And what of the players? Nobody covered themselves in glory on Tuesday but the biggest question mark is Philippe Coutinho. Is there anything the club-record signing can do to save his Barcelona career?
Ernesto Valverde's managerial record for Barcelona:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 10, 2019
• 116 games
• 80 wins
• 25 draws
• 11 defeats
• 274 goals scored
• 94 goals conceded
• 2 LaLiga
• 1 Copa del Rey
• 1 Supercopa de España
Back-to-back Champions league knockouts after holding a three goal lead. pic.twitter.com/baMGmnUp9s
REAL MADRID LOOK TO THE FUTURE
If you’re approaching a crossroads, better to do it as potential double-winners for the second year running. Unlike their rivals, Real Madrid don’t have that luxury.
Instead, Zinedine Zidane is set to oversee a rebuild after Madrid’s first trophy-less season in four years. With the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Eden Hazard, Paul Pogba, and Neymar all potential arrivals, that means plenty of departures as well.
Gareth Bale is the name at the top of everyone’s minds, and there’s been no further clarity about his future under Zidane. The next two weeks will be Bale in the shop window.
One player who might be saved from a cull is Isco. The latest reports suggest Zidane does not want the Spaniard to leave, just months after an exit seemed inevitable once he was marginalised by Santiago Solari. If he can repay the returning manager’s faith, starting with Sunday at Real Sociedad, he’ll likely get to stay.
Good morning! Here's our front cover today: Zidane wants Isco to stay and sees him as a key figure in his new project that begins next season... pic.twitter.com/XrlAL9rCwq— AS English (@English_AS) May 11, 2019
CAN GETAFE GET THEIR MIRACLE?
About the rest of the league: Celta Vigo, Villarreal, Levante, Valladolid, and Girona are locked in a battle to stave off relegation, and two of those teams will have a say in the top-four race as well. Valladolid host Valencia next week, when Villarreal host Getafe, who are chasing a miracle.
The Madrid side have an average attendance of less than 10,000, and a total wage bill of €40million. Yet they’re the front-runners for the final Champions League spot.
This weekend they face Barcelona. They’re currently three points ahead of Valencia, who have to recover from their Europa League disappointment against Arsenal as they face Alaves, and Sevilla, who have a difficult away game against Atletico Madrid.
Valencia would win head-to-head tiebreakers against both their rivals, but Getafe would have the advantage over Sevilla. Can they keep the dream alive for one more week?
GETAFE:— La Liga Lowdown 🧡🇪🇸⚽️ (@LaLigaLowdown) May 11, 2019
Current position: 4th
Highest possible finish: 4th
Lowest possible finish: 6th
Fixtures: Barcelona ✈, Villarreal 🏡
Champions League qualification is in their hands, but only if they take at least four points. One defeat takes it out of their hands.#LLL
The Uruguay defender announced at a press conference on Tuesday that he will leave the Wanda Metropolitano when his contract expires following the end of this season.
Godin, 33, joined Los Rojiblancos from Villarreal in 2010 and enjoyed huge success in the capital, winning the La Liga title in the 2013/14 campaign and twice lifting the Europa League trophy.
Quoted on Atletico’s official Twitter account, an emotional Godin said: “The most beautiful phase of my career and my life comes to an end. I’m proud to have been a part of this club’s history. I’m very thankful.
“Atleti have been my family, my club and my home, and it’s very hard to say goodbye.
“I had a wonderful time and I wanted to thank all of you.”
Godin, who will have the opportunity to say goodbye to Atletico’s supporters at their final home game of the season against Sevilla on Sunday, has been linked with a move to Serie A.
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde admits the loss of Ousmane Dembele to a hamstring problem early in the 2-0 defeat at Celta Vigo will be a “major blow” to their end-of-season ambitions.
With the La Liga title already secure, Valverde opted to rest several key men at Estadio de Balaidos ahead of next week’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Liverpool.
French forward Dembele, though, lasted less than 10 minutes before being forced off with a hamstring injury.
While the defeat, a first in the league since November, will not in itself be a major issue on the campaign, losing another attacking option could be.
Barcelona confirmed in a statement on the club website Dembele had “suffered a muscular injury in his right hamstring” and was set for further tests on Sunday to establish the full extent of the problem.
“He is an important player for us and it is a major blow with the big games we have coming up,” Valverde told reporters, as quoted by Spanish media outlet Marca.
“I didn’t replace him with Philippe Coutinho as I didn’t want to run any more risks.”
Defender Jean-Clair Todibo also went off during the second half, but Valverde hoped the problem was not serious.
Maxi Gomez finally broke the deadlock in the 67th minute before Iago Aspas wrapped things up with a late penalty, given for handball following a Video Assistant Referee referral.
Celta Vigo move five points clear of the relegation zone to 14th place, while Barca slipped to a first LaLiga defeat since November.
“We dominated the match at moments. Their first goal came and it gave them the option to go on and win the game. We had no answer,” Valverde said.
“We played with a lot of new faces and in the second half we were unable to generate what we needed to score.”