Time is running out in the La Liga season, which means every team looking to change their position better make its move now.
Atletico Madrid took care of business to start Week 34 with a 2-0 victory over Elche, making sure they remain in first place through the end of action on Monday.
Meanwhile, Barcelona entered the week four points back and cannot afford anything but wins going forward. Unfortunately, things will not be easy against Athletic Bilbao, which are trying to hold onto the No. 4 spot.
Real Madrid are off after winning the Copa del Rey with a 2-1 defeat of Barcelona. They will use the weekend to prepare for their upcoming battle against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals, but you can be certain that all fans and players will be paying attention to what happens in the Spanish league.
There is plenty to follow throughout Matchday 34, so make sure to follow this table and recap throughout the weekend.
|April 18||Atletico Madrid||2-0||Elche|
|April 19||Real Sociedad||2-1||Espanyol|
|April 20||Almeria||2-4||Celta Vigo|
|April 20||Rayo Vallecano||3-1||Real Betis|
|April 20||Barcelona||2-1||Athletic Bilbao|
via ESPN FC
Atletico Madrid had a scare in the first match of the weekend, barely holding on to a victory over Elche.
After a scoreless first half, Atletico appeared set to take the lead when Raul Garcia drew a foul in the penalty area in the 50th minute. Unfortunately, David Villa missed from the spot, something that has been a disturbing trend this season:
Atletico Madrid: No team has missed more penalties in La Liga this season than Atletico Madrid (4)— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) April 18, 2014
Fortunately, Miranda was able to come through with a goal in the 72nd minute on a header off a corner kick. Elche had a few attempts to tie it, but Atletico eventually put it away with a successful penalty shot by Diego Costa.
This score clinched the victory and helped ease the tension among the home fans:
91' Costa converts! 2-0 Atleti. The Calderon exhales Atleti will stay in first place another week. #Dre— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTSUSA) April 18, 2014
Atletico Madrid moved one step closer to securing a league title with just four matches remaining in the season.
On the other hand, things continue to get worse for Barcelona. The defending champs no longer have a chance at trophies in either Champions League or the Copa del Rey, leaving the league title as the only prize remaining.
Unfortunately, this will be extremely difficult with both Neymar and Jordi Alba going down with injuries in the last match. According to ESPN, they will each be out close to a month.
A win over Athletic Bilbao is now bigger than ever to get the club back into the title race and improve confidence going forward. Bilbao manager Ernesto Valverde is afraid of this, telling AS (translated by Dermot Corrigan of ESPN):
I do not know if it is better or worse for us, but this week now La Liga is the only trophy Barca can win. The game is difficult, even if they have lost out on two trophies in a week. Maybe now they feel more pressure to break the bad run after losing three consecutive games, something they are not used to. But for us it is just as difficult.
Whether this pressure leads to success or failure remains to be seen, but Barca know that they need three points out of this match.
Another big contest set to take place on Sunday is Sevilla hosting Granada. Sevilla are currently in fifth place, six points behind Bilbao for a top-four spot. While this is tough to make up in the five matches, the deficit could quickly drop to three with a Barcelona win.
Who will win La Liga?
Besides just the battles at the top, there is plenty of intrigue with the race to avoid relegation. Real Betis have become a lost cause in last place, but Getafe and Almeria each have a chance to stay in the top-flight league.
Almeria especially have a winnable match at home against Celta Vigo. Three points could allow the squad to jump Getafe as well as Real Valladolid, which is not competing this weekend.
Finally, the week will end with a battle between Villarreal and Malaga on Monday. While Malaga are simply looking to finish as high as possible, Villarreal are trying to secure a spot in a European tournament next season.
Another win should at least allow the club to feel confident about earning a spot in Europa League with an outside chance of getting into Champions League.
Villarreal dropped a golden chance to get into a European place following a 2-0 loss to Malaga on Monday. The Yellow Submarine could've overtaken Real Sociedad for sixth place with a victory but instead remain two points behind in seventh.
The three points are nice for Malaga, but they're in the mid-table purgatory reserved for those who won't be relegated but are too far back to qualify for Europe.
Roque Santa Cruz got the hosts out to a great start, scoring in the sixth minute. Sergi Darder doubled the lead in the 53rd minute, sealing the victory.
Malaga's job was made a bit harder from the 73rd minute on, as Nourredine Amrabat's red card left his club with only 10 men. Flavio Ferreira and Marcos Angeleri remained firm in the centre of defence and repelled Villarreal's best attacks.
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