In the penultimate round of the La Liga season, Real Sociedad kept their European hopes alive with a remarkable 3-3 draw at home to second-placed Real Madrid. The result leaves them with a top-five position guaranteed, and if they can beat relegation-threatened Deportivo and hope Valencia drop points against Sevilla, they could book themselves a spot in next season’s Champions League.
The draw at the Anoeta Stadium also means that Real Madrid can finish at best twelve points behind arch-rivals Barcelona, who won at the other Barcelona-based team, mid-table Espanyol.
With their unexpected rise to the top and their attractive, attacking style of football, Sociedad have become many Spanish neutrals’ favorites to reach the coveted 4th spot. Much of the squad is home-grown with only six non-Spaniards in the entire squad, including Mexican forward Carlos Vela, formerly of Arsenal. Although the diminutive “new Messi” never fulfilled his potential at the Emirates, he has blossomed in Northern Spain, scoring twenty-six goals in his two seasons there to date.
However, despite being known as one of the best teams to watch in Spain, it was a moment of madness from the Sociedad defense which gifted Madrid and early opener. There was no real danger as the ball was passed around the back line, but Mikel González hesitated in possession and allowed Gonzalo Higuían to poach the ball off him and slot the ball into the bottom corner after only six minutes of play.
Sociedad battered the Madrid goal in the first half but failed to find an equalizer, and shortly after half time, the lead was doubled. Kaká held the ball up on the left before delivering a delicious cross in between defenders and the goalkeeper, and pacy youngster José Callejón was only too happy to race through and poke home.
Despite this blow, Sociedad continued to come forward and peppered Diego López with shots, and they were handed a route back into the match on 63 minutes when German midfielder Sami Khedira was adjudged to have handled inside the box. Xabi Prieto coolly rolled the ball past the goalkeeper into the bottom corner, and suddenly the Basque country crowd were rejuvenated, willing their team forward.
They were rewarded with an equalizer soon after, with mohawked midfielder Antoine Griezmann side-footing Carlos Martinez’ low cross past the hapless keeper. The game only remained level for two minutes though, as the German duo of Khedira and Özil combined to restore Madrid’s advantage, exchanging a one-two on the edge of the box before Khedira dunked a delightful finish over the outstretched Claudio Bravo in the Sociedad goal.
With the crowd in full voice and Europe at stake, the home side were not to be denied and had their equalizer in stoppage time, Prieto bundling his second over the line despite the best efforts of Lopez to stop him. The team from San Sebastian’s dream continues just three years after returning from La Segunda, but José Mourinho’s uncomfortable tenure as Madrid boss is limping to an undignified end.
Elsewhere in Spain, Barcelona edged closer to the 100-point mark with a comfortable 2-0 victory over neighbors Espanyol in the Cornella-El Prat stadium. Shortly after Brazilian wonderkid Neymar announced he would be joining Lionel Messi – his “dream move” – to create a formidable forward pairing next season, it was Chilean forward Alexis Sánchez who broke the deadlock, shimmying between several defenders inside the box and curling a shot round the goalkeeper.Pedro completed the victory in the second half with a lightning fast break through the defense and a powerful half-volleyed finish at the near post.
With the battle at the top of the table over for some time, a four-way relegation dogfight is ongoing, with all of the bottom four clubs – Mallorca, Zaragoza, Celta Vigo and Deportivo – still fighting for survival and only separated by two points. Zaragoza and Deportivo are many fans’ favorites to go down as they still have to face Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad respectively, but Mallorca and Celta’s games against lower mid-table table teams mean the battle for safety could go down to the final minutes of the season.
Atlético themselves showed some form of cup final hangover with a drab 0-0 draw with Mallorca, and there were also victories for Osasuna, Celta Vigo, Rayo Vallecano, Málaga, Levante, Real Betis, and Valencia in a high-scoring weekend of action in La Liga.
In other news, Atlético talisman and supposedly the best out-and-out striker in the game, Falcao, is reportedly close to completing a move to big spending AS Monaco, who will be starting their first season back in Ligue 1. Having already signed João Moutinho and James Rodríguez for a joint fee of £60million from Porto, the deal to sign Falcao is thought to be around the £50million mark, with Chelsea and Manchester City snubbed.
Although it suggests a backwards step for the Colombian known as El Tigre, with Monaco not even in European football next season, it would potentially allow him to bypass an ‘anti-Real Madrid’ clause in his sizable Atlético contract which would mean Los Merengues would have to pay £15million more than any other club. In any case, the shootout between big spenders PSG and Monaco, and more precisely Zlatan Ibrahimović and Falcao, should mean an interesting season in France.
By Sam France