And so it ends. For the first time since March last year, Sevilla were beaten at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Thirty-five games they had gone without defeat, but then Real Madrid arrived, with Cristiano Ronaldo, and beat them 3-2. Ronaldo scored a hat-trick, taking him back ahead of Leo Messi in the scoring charts and onto 42 league goals, and enabling Madrid to keep up their pursuit of Barcelona at the top of the table. He was, Carlo Ancelotti said, “the star of a team that suffered.”
Suffered, but prevailed. Sergio Ramos had described it as “life and death” and Madrid emerged alive. Two of Ronaldo’s three goals came when Gregorz Krychowiak was off the pitch, receiving treatment for a broken nose after a clash with Ramos. In total, he was off for nine minutes. “And against Madrid you don’t want to play with ten men for even one minute,” coach Unai Emery said.
With three games to go they are still just two points behind Barcelona – and Barcelona have to travel to Atletico Madrid on the penultimate weekend of the season. “It’s difficult, but we’ll keep fighting,” Ramos said.
Sevilla were beaten, but not defeated. At the end of the game, the Pizjuan gave its players a huge ovation. An astonishing run had come to an end but they still have a Europa League semi-final there on Thursday night and an outside chance of clinching a Champions League place via La Liga. They had fought back too, despite going 2-0 down, and had been close to getting the equaliser. “This is a team to be proud of,” Emery said.
Every game in which there is something at stake will kick off at the same time in the final two weeks of the league season. Week 37 will be played on Sunday May 17 and Saturday May 23. The announcement came barely a week after the league had announced that both rounds of games would be on Sunday. They hadn’t noticed what everyone else had – that on Sunday May 24 there are general elections in Spain.
Cordoba became the first team to be mathematically relegated, as a silent Arcangel stadium watched their team getting torn apart by Barcelona, losing 8-0 and slipping away without a fight. “What you saw was the difference between the team at the top and the team at the bottom,” Cordoba’s manager Romero said sadly. It had taken Cordoba over 40 years to reach the first division, and not even an entire season to leave it again. By the end, fans were resigned to their fate, but there had been anger too: they protested poor management at a club where there were three different managers and a squad put together at the last minute that was not good enough.
Luis Suarez scored his first hat-trick as a Barcelona player in that 8-0 victory over Cordoba, taking his season total to 24 – despite not even making his debut until week nine. Between him, Messi and Neymar, they have scored 108 goals. And there’s still time for more.
Unpaid players, staff on strike, a president forced to walk, debts piling up and a manager who announced “there’s not much more I can do.” But still Elche are safe. They reached 40 points, a huge achievement for a club in such turmoil, and will be in the first division again next year. Unless they are relegated for their financial mismanagement… and that’s a very real possibility.
Speaking of which, Almeria hope to find out on May 21 whether the three-point penalty that may well decide if they stay up or go down will be applied. That’s May 21, just two days before the season ends. Meanwhile, everyone else gets stuck in limbo.