The top three teams in the La Liga table all won their games on Matchday 31, meaning that the status quo remained unchanged. But Real Madrid were the most impressive of the bunch, scoring five goals in their rout of Rayo Vallecano.
Here are the results from Saturday’s action:
|Celta Vigo||1-0||Sevilla FC|
|Athletic Bilbao||1-2||Atletico Madrid|
|Real Madrid||5-0||Rayo Vallecano|
With those scores in mind, here’s how the table looks after Matchday 31:
The first match of the day saw Barcelona take three points from local rival Espanyol, winning 1-0 on the road. By all accounts, the margin of victory should have been greater.
Barca dominated the match, as the numbers show:
|Team||Possession||Shots||Shots on Goal||Corner Kicks|
Despite that supremacy, it took a penalty for Lionel Messi to score the only goal of the match in the 74th minute.
With eight minutes left in the match, Espanyol keeper Kiko Casilla was sent off for handling the ball outside of his box—forcing defender Javi Lopez to put the gloves on for the remainder of the match.
Barcelona couldn’t extend their lead, but they’ll gladly take the three points as it keeps them one point behind league-leading Atletico Madrid.
The next game of the day saw Sevilla—who entered the day on a six-game winning streak—upset by Celta Vigo thanks to a late penalty in the 87th minute. Celta were the better team, coming out with energy and controlling the ball.
After seeing Barcelona take a temporary lead at the top of the table earlier in the day, Atletico Madrid must have been nervous when Athletic Bilbao took an early lead thanks to Iker Muniain’s strike in the sixth minute.
But it didn’t take long for the league leaders to equalize, as Diego Costa continued his exquisite form and tied the game in the 20th minute with his 25th goal of the season—good for second in La Liga behind Cristiano Ronaldo.
Koke put the visitors up for good with a diving header 10 minutes into the second half, handing Bilbao only their second home loss of the season (Real Madrid drew there and Barca lost).
Saturday’s final game was a goalfest, as Los Blancos dominated Rayo Vallecano 5-0, with four of those goals coming in the second half.
The Rayo defense had conceded 63 goals on the season—nine more than the second-worst defense in the league—so Ronaldo opened the floodgates in the 15th minute after latching on to a Gareth Bale through ball.
But Madrid only took a slim 1-0 lead into the break…and then the fireworks were unleashed. Daniel Carvajal made it a two-goal lead at the 55-minute mark, and then Gareth Bale score twice in two minutes to put the game well out of reach.
Alvaro Morata added a fifth for good measure with around 10 minutes left, and the demoralizing win was complete.
The race for the title looks to be one of the closest ones in recent memory, and Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC broke down Madrid’s title chances:
At the end it was as-we-were in the table, with Madrid on paper having the easiest run-in, including more home games than either Barca or Atletico, who could tire each other out when they meet in the Champions League.
But next Sunday, Madrid do face a very tricky looking away trip to Real Sociedad (where Barca lost last month), and given their worse head-to-head record against both title rivals, they could well have to win all seven remaining games to triumph. It looks very much as if Spain's title race will go right down to the wire.
Whether or not Corrigan is right about Madrid having the easiest remaining schedule, it seems certain that he’s right about one thing: This title race will be a fantastic one, full of goals and intrigue.