Barça secure La Liga and reach the European Cup Final, Sevilla are in the Europa League Final
THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW
Five days of triumph for FC Barcelona – winning the Spanish league and reaching the Champions League Final, and tragedy for Real Madrid, losing the league and getting knocked out of Europe.
The big two went their separate ways in Europe first. Barça lost 3-2 in Munich but advanced 5-3 overall while Real could only draw 1-1 at home to Juventus and left the competition 3-2 on aggregate.
A weird yet entertaining match at the Allianz Arena saw Barcelona lose yet come away victorious, thanks to Messi’s minutes of magic in the first leg.
The Lipoqq game was very open and five goals could well have been more. Mehdi Benatia’s opener for Bayern in the seventh minute briefly gave Bayern hope of overturning the 3-0 first leg lead but then a Neymar brace put Barça out of reach at 5-1 on aggregate with two away goals.
Luis Suarez set up both strikes unselfishly, confirming how well the two South Americans are gelling with another Latin lyricist Lionel Messi pulling the strings close behind them.
With the tie out of sight, attention turned to Pep Guardiola and the strange figure he cut on the touchline. What was going through his head as his former proteges dismissed his current crop with such ease?
Was he contemplating eating his words and returning to his spiritual home? How long will it take to bring the German champions up to the same level? And will Munich even give him the time…?
The fact Germany’s top side, featuring five World Cup winners, had been so comprehensively dismissed is proof enough this is a fine Barcelona side, albeit not as revolutionary as Guardiola’s.
Bayern salvaged some pride with two second half goals to secure a victory, but left confounded at the overall gulf in class.
*Real’s season ended in all but name on Wednesday evening as they drew 1-1 at home to Juventus and exited the Champions League 3-2 on aggregate.
The holders only needed a 1-0 result to set up a relishing final against Barcelona in Berlin but allowed the Serie A champions to grab a precious away goal and then shut up shop Italian-style and see out the minutes.
Real ran and ran in pursuit of a winner following Juve’s leveller but Gianluigi Buffon was never put under sustained pressure, so well-drilled was the back four in front of him. Despite their panoply of attacking talents, Carlo Ancelotti’s team ran out of ideas and sweated their way to a draw.
Iker Casillas was possibly at fault for not saving Alvaro Morata’s shot but he might have been unsighted in a crowded box for a fatal split-second.
Casillas then kept Real in the game with a crucial save from a breakaway, though finished by using up the last minute of extra-time by making a silly foul throw.
It was not all doom and gloom for the home side. Marcelo, so often at fault in losing the ball in previous matches, had an impressive game with plenty of attacking contributions and distribution.
Gareth Bale enjoyed the lion’s share of Real chances but fired wide or headed high. Only once in the first half did his old magic fleetingly return when a swerving rocket into the top corner was tipped away by Buffon.
The Welshman certainly could not be faulted for trying, but again seemed to be on a different wavelength at times and the angrier elements of the Bernabeu duly slated him once again.
Real missed Luka Modric’s invention in the middle; Toni Kroos did little more than hold his position and make simple lay-offs; the returning Karim Benzema showed flashes of danger in the first-half but tired and was subbed in the second.
Cristiano Ronaldo coolly out-thought Buffon for the penalty but started to disappear after the break and his colleagues should have made more of his electric acceleration and heading prowess.
Isco was stuck out wide and unable to cause as much trouble as he had done before, but when James Rodriguez cannot find the space to invade, you know you are up against a master defence.
At least as much credit has to go to Juve for their masterful tactics and defensive nous as blame to Real for not scoring more.
Yet in the end, Real’s ‘BBC’ attack did not have the cutting edge and deadly firepower of Barcelona’s three-pronged vanguard of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
So, we will not have a clasico final to the Champions League after all and after last year’s all-Spanish final, there will be only one La Liga representative in Berlin.
A Barca v Real final would have been billed as the match of the century here. Now instead there will be a more sober prognosis of the Italian/Spanish tactical clash which awaits.
Real fans might have felt sheepish cheering their conquerors in the final, but when the opposition is their biggest rivals and merengues old boy Morata showed such dignity by not celebrating twice when scoring against his former club, they should come down heavily in favour of La Vecchia Signora.
Ancelotti meanwhile will be having a sleepless night or two over Real President Florentino Perez polishing the axe of dismissal now there are no more cups to play for.
* Predicatably the Madrid press went into meltdown. Marca had ‘The fiasco of the century’ as its banner headline, calling it a ‘failure to reach ‘the mother of all finals.’
AS more soberly splashed, ‘Morata should have been there’.
* Real Madrid’s team bus was met by 5,000 ecstatic, cheering supporters with flares and fireworks in an extraordinary pre-match welcome before the Juventus encounter. Talk about counting chickens before they are hatched…
The players needed protecting by police from Madridista hotheads as they drove away from the Bernabeu after the match. Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad…
* Sevilla maintained their unsung hero status, dispatching Fiorentina 2-0 in Italy to advance 5-0 on aggregate to the Europa League final, where they will play Dnipro of Ukraine.
Carlos Bacca got the show going with a goal in the 22nd minute and Daniel Carrico made it 5-0 to the holders on aggregate five minutes later. Fiorentina enjoyed two-thirds of the ball but could not score, missing a second-half penalty as well, leaving Unai Emery’s side to advance impressively to their fourth Europa League final in ten years.
Dnipro, who beat Napoli in the semi-finals, await in the final on the 27th of May in Warsaw. The first Ukrainian side to reach a European final since Shakhtar Donetsk in 2009 will have a short hop to Poland for the match, though Sevilla should start as favourites.
EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL – Sevilla v Dnipro, Warsaw, 27th May
COPA DEL REY FINAL – Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona, 30th May
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL – Barcelona v Juventus, Berlin, 6th June
*It was no surprise that Sunday saw Barça clinch the league and kill off Real’s season definitively, but for Los Merengues at least the end was swift. Leo Messi, who else, scored the only goal of the game at Atletico Madrid with a beautifully disguised shot after combining with Pedro.
That was enough to keep the gap at four points with one game to play.
Real did their best to be fair, winning 4-1 at Espanyol with Cristiano Ronaldo bagging another hat-trick with an ease he never found against Juventus, but it was a phyrric victory. The only silver linings were that Real bounced back from their midweek heartache with aplomb and CR7 moved two goals ahead of Messi in the Pichichi race.