La Liga Hangover: Barcelona Champions, Sporting Safe, Liga Fantastic

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2016

FC Barcelona players parade on a bus through the streets of Barcelona to celebrate their 24th La Liga title, in Barcelona, on May 15, 2016
Barcelona sealed their 24th La Liga title on May 14, 2016 at Granada to hold off Real Madrid's late-season surge.

 / AFP / PAU BARRENA        (Photo credit should read PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images)
PAU BARRENA/Getty Images

Welcome to La Liga Hangover, a weekly column running throughout the season in which we take a light-hearted, though in-depth, look at the key stories and talking points from the most recent weekend of action in Spanish football's top flight. With a focus on the biggest teams, such as Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and a worthwhile nod toward the rest, we examine how the league is shaping up each week and what to look out for going forward.

 

Iniesta's Game, You're Just In It

He has scored the goal that won the FIFA World Cup, he has won every trophy going and now he has won La Liga as captain of the only club he has played for. Andres Iniesta, take a bow.

The Catalan club's captain has now won three trophies in his first year as skipper and could yet make it four with the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona were, for the most part of this season, far and away the most watchable side and the team who looked favourites to win everything. One bad spell allowed others to gain ground and force the title race all the way, but Luis Enrique's men were not to be denied.

GRANADA, SPAIN - MAY 14:  Luis Suarez (9)of FC Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his teamates Jordi Alba (18), Daniel Alves, Ivan Rakitic, Lionel Messi (10) and Andres Iniesta Messi during the La Liga match between Granada CF and FC
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Applause has to go in the direction of Diego Simeone and Zinedine Zidane for keeping Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, respectively, chasing hard and winning consistently, and each will have their own areas to improve over summerone of them after a trophyless season, the other even in the face of euphoric success.

Speaking of euphoric success, it's a close call which required the bigger outpouring of energy: the force with which Sergio Alvarez Diaz struck the ball late on against Villarreal, or the explosive nature of the celebrations from Sporting de Gijon fans when the shot hit the back of the net.

A spectacular goal was the stuff of dreams on any occasion, but even more so for Alvarez, a Sporting academy graduate, as it ensured their survival in La Liga for another year.

Emotions naturally ran high at many grounds over the weekend as La Liga drew to a close, not least at Rayo Vallecano where the fans celebrated a win—but were simultaneously commiserated for being relegated.

Years of not focusing on the defensive side of their game finally cost the Vallecas club, and while charismatic boss Paco Jemez and the likes of Roberto Trashorras from the playing staff will be missed in the top flight by some, their demise really is down to their own bad habits.

A long campaign is finally over.

It has been memorable; dramatic in some cases, traumatic in others and always offering top billing on the world stage thanks to the names involved, the quality on display and the passion of the supporters, inside the stadiums and out.

Congratulations to Barcelona, well done to Sporting...roll on 2016-17.

 

Jornada 38 Results

Valencia 0-1 Real Sociedad

Deportivo La Coruna 0-2 Real Madrid

Granada 0-3 Barcelona

Athletic Club Bilbao 3-1 Sevilla

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Celta Vigo

Malaga 4-1 Las Palmas

Espanyol 4-2 Eibar

Sporting Gijon 2-0 Villarreal

Real Betis 2-1 Getafe

Rayo Vallecano 3-1 Levante

 

Finals

A quick look ahead to the remaining games for Spanish sides sees a fair amount of representation. Naturally the Copa del Rey is important, with Barcelona and Sevilla facing off, but the latter are also in UEFA Europa League action on Wednesday, against Liverpool in Basel, Switzerland.

Unai Emery's team are not in good form but have tremendous recent European history, winning the competition the past two seasons and in a fifth final in 10 years.

Meanwhile the UEFA Champions League final sees the two Madrid clubs face off against each other, Real versus Atletico, in a repeat of two years ago.

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27:   Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid crosses the ball while being challenged by Diego Godin and Felipe Luis of Club Atletico de Madridduring the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiag
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Both sides fielded full-strength XIs for the final league fixture, with a handy break before the final itself to recuperate, and both will go full throttle for the right to be called Europe's best this season—which is odd, given neither have been crowned Spain's best.

The ongoing dominance of Spanish teams in the latter stages of European competitions continues to show the fantastic strength in depth that the top half of the table, at least, boasts and why plenty of the game's top talents—players and coaches alike—continue to rock up in La Liga to highlight their ability and attempt to win major honours.

Regardless of which of the quartet of teams emerge triumphant from their respective finals, Spanish football is set to continue contributing in an enormous way over the summer and beyond.

 

Points of Authority

  • Vicente del Bosque will name his Spain squad soon for UEFA Euro 2016, and many will call for Aritz Aduriz to be involved. He scored 20 this season, the top-scoring Spaniard in La Liga
  • Real Betis won on the final day to complete a top-half finish on their return to the Primera. Fellow promoted side Las Palmas finished one place below, in 11th, with the third side, Sporting, surviving on the final day
  • The worst runs at the end of the season belong to Valencia and Sevilla, three straight losses apiece, and the latter have a European final to rediscover form for
  • Either England or Spain will have five Champions League participants next season, depending on if Sevilla or opponents Liverpool win the Europa League final on Wednesday, 18 May
  • Over the final six games of the season, the teams who won the fewest points were Villarreal and Sevilla, with just four each
  • During that same run, Sporting took 11 points, Granada nine. Both survived the drop

 

Stat Attack

  • Luis Suarez ended as the Pichichi, scoring 40 goals, or an average of one every 78.8 minutes
  • Lionel Messi and Suarez claimed 16 assists each, La Liga's highest. Koke took 14, Neymar 12, Cristiano Ronaldo 11
  • Real Madrid scored the most set-piece goals with 19. Rayo were second, with 17
  • Deportivo benefited from the most own goals scored in their favour: four
  • Neymar created the most chances per match and performed the most dribbles per game
  • The player with the most unsuccessful touches per game was, ironically, Isaac Success. Perhaps he'll change his name as a result
  • Toni Kroos ended the year with the best pass-completion rate, hitting just under 94 per cent
  • Sixty-four points for Villarreal to finish in the top four is the lowest required since 2011-12 (Malaga, 58)
  • Espanyol had the worst defensive record, conceding 74, while Atletico Madrid had the best, conceding just 18
  • Real Betis scored fewest, only 34, while Barcelona top-scored on 112

Certain stats via Whoscored.com.

 

Good Week, Bad Week

The Good

Mikel Oyarzabal capped an excellent breakthrough season with the last-minute winner for Real Sociedad, Luis Suarez buried a final-day hat-trick to breach 40 and Marco Asensio rounded off his loan spell at Espanyol with a superb performance and brace.

Athletic pipped fifth place ahead of Celta to complete an excellent comeback after a poor start to the season. Now, if Ernesto Valverde can just get his team playing well from August next term...

Manuel Pablo and Juan Carlos Valeron are retiring, per Marca. Their careers in Spain have been nothing short of exceptional.

Juan Carlos Valeron of Las Palmas during the Primera Division match between FC Barcelona and Las Palmas on September 26, 2015 at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

 

The Bad

The Athletic-Sevilla match descended into bad temper and silly fouls, with three red cards dished out: Coke, Timo Kolodziejczak and Mikel Rico all were dismissed. Emi Buendia was sent off for Getafe, too, for a reckless and wild kick-out challenge.

Sevilla didn't win a single away league match all season.

Well...Rayo and Getafe were relegated. That's pretty bad.

 

Summer Predictions

Managerial changes are a fact of life in La Liga, and we should expect two or three teams to look to make new appointments. Valencia's poor finish to the year could harm Pako Ayestaran's chances of staying involved, while Spain needing a new national team manager could force a top-flight club into a new boss.

There's more chance of Real Madrid's BBC attack being broken up than Barcelona's MSN, but we're betting both remain in place for the start of next term.

La Segunda Division isn't over yet, but for promotion we'll back the top twoDeportivo Alaves and Leganesto secure their spots, with in-form Real Zaragoza to seal a return via the play-offs. 

 

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