Stars set to say farewell on La Liga’s final weekend
Atletico Madrid’s Spanish forward Fernando Torres celebrates with the trophy after the UEFA Europa League final football match between Olympique de Marseille and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Parc OL stadium in Decines-Charpieu, near Lyon on May 16, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD
La Liga’s winners and losers are settled and the European qualification spots decided but for a collection of star players the final weekend of the season will be anything but a dead rubber.
Here, we look at five talking points ahead of the last weekend in La Liga:
Spots up for grabs in Kiev
Zinedine Zidane would appear to have it clear in his mind what does and does not work in Europe. Through Real Madrid’s journey to the final, he has put great faith in the likes of Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio while Gareth Bale, Isco and even Karim Benzema have found their places less secure. Benzema and Isco, however, have proven their coach’s stance can be turned and now Bale must try to follow suit. His man-of-the-match performance against Celta Vigo last weekend would surely have made an impact on Zidane and another similar display against Villarreal on Saturday might sneak him a starting spot in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo has shaken off an ankle sprain but the decision is whether to risk the Portugese’s fitness this weekend or, by leaving him out, his sharpness against Liverpool.
Adios Iniesta, Torres
After 674 matches and 22 years associated with the club, Andres Iniesta will bid farewell to Barcelona, who host Real Sociedad on Sunday. A grand closing ceremony is planned, with the Camp Nou crowd set to form the message ‘Infinito Iniesta’ on both sides and Iniesta’s number eight at either end. After the match, the 34-year-old will lift the La Liga trophy and it is likely Barca coach Ernesto Valverde will substitute his midfielder to allow the club’s fans one final standing ovation. Torres’ departure will be no easier to stomach for Atletico, whom the forward has supported since he was five years old. An 128th goal for the club against Eibar on Sunday would bring the house down.
Atletico no surer of Griezmann and Oblak futures
Atleti won the Europa League at a canter on Wednesday, thanks to a 3-0 win over Marseille, but silverware may not be enough to convince their two star players to stay. Antoine Griezmann, who scored twice in Lyon, looks particularly likely to move, with Barcelona expected to activate the striker’s 100 million-euro buyout clause before the start of the World Cup. Jan Oblak has proven himself among, if not at the top of, the world’s elite group of goalkeepers and Diego Simeone may face a fight to hold onto the Slovenian too.
Messi preservation the priority
It is impossible to know whether had Barcelona been able to throw Messi on for the final 19 minutes against Levante last weekend, their unbeaten season would still be intact. Luis Suarez made it 5-4 in the 71st minute but Messi was not in the squad and Barca could not find an equaliser. Messi did play 16 minutes of Wednesday’s friendly against Mamelodi Sundowns, a match commemorating 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela. Even with the World Cup approaching for the Argentinian, Barca’s unbeaten season mattered. It was their chance to add some gloss to a campaign still soured by their Champions League exit to Roma. Without Messi, that chance was lost.
Levante and Sevilla finishing strong
Levante could be forgiven for not wanting the season to end. Paco Lopez took charge in March with the team in danger of relegation and has now overseen eight wins in 10 matches. If they follow up their stunning victory over Barca by beating Celta Vigo on Saturday, and other results go their way, Levante could still finish 11th. This summer promises to be a busy one but with Lopez committing himself to the club next season, better times should lie ahead. For Sevilla, a late surge under temporary boss Joaquin Caparros has secured Europa League qualification ahead of Saturday’s game against Alaves but off the pitch, much is still to be decided including the positions of coach and sporting director.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Celta Vigo v Levante (1100), Leganes v Real Betis (1415), Sevilla v Alaves (1630), Malaga v Getafe (1630), Las Palmas v Girona (1630), Villarreal v Real Madrid (1845)
Valencia v Deportivo La Coruna (1000), Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol (1415), Atletico Madrid v Eibar (1630), Barcelona v Real Sociedad (1845)