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La Liga Winners and Losers After Final 2019 Week 18 Table

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2019

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 22: Rodrygo of Real Madrid battles for possession with Inigo Martinez of Athletic Club during the Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Athletic Club at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 22, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Luis Suarez was in vintage form to help Barcelona seize outright control of the title race in Week 18 of the 2019/20 La Liga season.

Suarez assisted three goals and scored another when Barca beat Alaves 4-1 on Saturday to go three points clear at the top. The Uruguayan's efforts were doubly rewarded when Real Madrid could only manage to draw 0-0 at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Real now trail their bitter rivals by two points after youthful attackers Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr. failed to click.

There was good news for the other team from the Spanish capital when Atletico Madrid snapped a five-game streak without a win away from home in the league. Atleti beat Real Betis 2-1 on Sunday to keep Diego Simeone's group in the top four.

It's a different story for Espanyol, who seem destined for relegation after another dismal day. The team rooted to the bottom of the table lost 2-0 to fellow strugglers Leganes on Sunday.

LaLiga @LaLigaEN

The best game from the final round of #LaLigaSantander matches in 2019 was... 🌟 ____________________ 🌟 https://t.co/Uwnt6AQ9Uc

LaLiga @LaLigaEN

How does it look for your team at the end of 2019? 👍🤔👎 #LaLigaSantander https://t.co/oSR1Plu2SG

     

Winner: Luis Suarez

Suarez was not himself for large periods of last season. Yet there's no doubt the 32-year-old has his swagger back during this campaign.

Barca's No. 9 was at his artful best against Alaves. He showcased outrageous flair almost every time he touched the ball, although what made this performance special was the efficiency of Suarez's actions.

His touches, twists, turns, flicks and passes were all made with the express intent of threatening goal. The initial result was a pair of assists for Antoine Griezmann and Arturo Vidal in the first half.

Setting up team-mates has been a specialty for Suarez:

OptaJose @OptaJose

2 - Against Alavés, Luis Suárez made two assists in a first half of a game for @FCBarcelona for the fourth time in all competitions, the first one at Camp Nou. Supportive, https://t.co/OnfxNdYx77

His generosity continued when he played in Lionel Messi to score Barca's third 21 minutes from time. Not content with masterfully pulling the creative strings, Suarez got in on the scoring act himself after winning and converting a penalty.

This was a throwback performance to his 2012-15 peak from a player who appeared past his best after last season.

     

Losers: Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr.

If Real don't win the title this season, it won't be hard to work out why. There simply aren't enough goals in Zinedine Zidane's team.

Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan

Barca have two more points than Madrid - but have scored 14 more goals over first 18 games.

Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan

Madrid now held scoreless in five of their first 18 LaLiga games.

The Frenchman is struggling to find the right supporting acts for free-scoring centre-forward Karim Benzema. Rodrygo, 18, and 19-year-old Vinicius Jr. were given the nod for the visit of Athletic, but neither seized his chance.

Instead, a combination of wayward finishing and stubborn goalkeeping served to deny both players a needed goal:

LaLiga @LaLigaEN

Real Madrid are laying seige to the visitors goal! 💥 #RealMadridAthletic https://t.co/rerQbwG5eL

LaLiga @LaLigaEN

Great skill from Vinicius, top save from Unai Simon! 🎩⛔ #RealMadridAthletic https://t.co/OqQoVkEzG6

Those struggles meant Zidane was forced to turn to outcast Gareth Bale and misfiring summer import Luka Jovic. Neither could provide a spark, though, underlining Los Blancos' healthy reliance on Benzema and his 12 league goals this campaign.

Rodrygo and Vinicius drawing a blank should hardly have surprised Zidane since the pair have found taking chances at this level a difficult learning curve:

Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan

Vincius and Rodrygo have just three goals [v Osasuna and Leganes at home] between them in 1051 minutes combined this season.

Real won't keep pace with Barca without fringe attackers finding the net more often.

     

Winner: Diego Simeone

Zidane will lament missed opportunities after Week 18, but Simeone will revel in having offered a reminder of his class. The Argentinian had seen his team stumble to five straights away stalemates in league action before Sunday.

Those results, coupled with a title drought stretching back to 2014, had led to questions about how long Simeone would continue in the job. Any such doubts should be dispelled after the way Atleti ended their away-day blues.

Simeone's inspired decision to bring Angel Correa off the bench keyed victory at the Estadio Benito Villamarin. Correa replaced Thomas Lemar in the 57th minute and soon put the visitors in front.

It was Correa at the heart of things again six minutes from time, crossing for Alvaro Morata to seal the points:

OptaJose @OptaJose

1 - @atletienglish's Ángel Correa is the only substitute to both score and assist in the same @LaLigaEN game this season. Stellar. https://t.co/xLi6MMi7QM

Simeone may have struggled to consistently snap Barca and Real's dominance of Spain's top flight in the last five years, but he's still the best man to lead Atletico.

     

Loser: Espanyol's Survival Hopes

Facing Leganes offered Espanyol an excellent chance of easing relegation fears before Christmas. However, Pablo Machin's team offered little in the way of an attacking threat.

Instead, a Leganes side entering the game as the lowest scorers in the division found the net twice. Martin Braithwaite and Youssef En-Nesyri did the damage, while Jonathan Calleri and Sergi Darder failed to create chances for the visitors.

The fact that Espanyol's established stars couldn't thrive against a team in a similar plight offered an ominous warning about the club's survival hopes. Scoring the fewest goals in the division while conceding the most is a recipe for relegation, a reality Machin and his players look dangerously close to accepting as their fate.