The battle for Europe got tighter than ever in Spain at the weekend as the majority of the teams in the top-seven all won, while Real Madrid’s title challenge was strengthened without them kicking a ball in anger.
Here are some things we learned in Spain this weekend:
1. Draws are killing Sevilla’s title hopes
Thomas Delaney and Anthony Martial both came close to injury-time winners for Sevilla in their 1-1 draw away to Rayo Vallecano, but it was not to be and a further two points escaped their clutches to further dampen their title hopes.
Sevilla’s draw means Real Madrid will move 10 points clear at the top of the table if they win away to Mallorca on Monday night.
Sunday was Sevilla’s fifth consecutive draw away from home, with their last away win in the league coming on January 3rd. That is 10 points dropped on the road in their last five games, which makes it easy to see where their title hopes have floundered.
Injuries to key players and losing players to the African Cup of Nations didn’t help, but at times Sevilla perhaps seem to lack ambition away from home and only wake up when it is almost too late.
2. Barca warm up for the Clasico
Any thoughts that Barca could be tired after their Europa League draw against Galatasaray on Thursday were quickly banished as they raced into a 3-0 lead at home to Osasuna. Although Osasuna were well below what was expected of them, Barca tore into them from the start and with the game sewn up before half-time, coach Xavi Hernandez was able to introduce fringe players after the break and rest some of his regular starters, reports Xinhua.
Confidence is high in the Camp Nou at ahead of a busy last week before an international break, which sees the return leg to Galatasaray and a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu to face Real Madrid and Barca are warming up nicely.
3 Reaching Europe getting harder than ever
The battle for Champions League and Europa League places next season gets closer than ever with Sevilla the only side in the top-seven not to win (Real Madrid have still to play). Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal, Betis and Real Sociedad all won their home games, while Betis’ win at home to Athletic Club Bilbao, left the Basque side, who currently sit in eighth place, seven points off a place in Europe and with a lot of work to do.
Villarreal and Barcelona impressed, while Atletico, Betis and Real Sociedad were maybe fortunate to win, but while they keep on getting results, it will be hard for anyone else to challenge and the main battle will be to see who will finish in the top-four.
4 Fran Rodriguez deserves praise for his work at Elche
When Francisco Rodriguez was named as Elche coach just over three months ago, his side were in the relegation zone and in freefall. 13 matches later and the team from the south-east of Spain sits 14th in the table with 32 points from 28 matches and an eight-point cushion over third from bottom Cadiz.
Rodriguez has guided his side to 20 points from 13 games, numbers which would have left them seventh if taken back to the start of the season.
Last season the young coach dramatically improved Huesca after being appointed and although they fell just short of salvation, he showed his talent as a coach. This year he is doing that again and deserves recognition.