May 3, 2012, 7:45 AM EDT
Throughout 2012, Athletic Bilbao has been a bit hot and cold, and not in that annoying Katy Perry way (don’t click on this). Marcelo Bielsa has had to balance Europa League success, a run to the Copa del Rey final, and his squad’s Primera campaign. The last has become a roller coaster.
On Wednesday, Real Madrid, needing a win to claim their first liga in four seasons, got early goals from Gonzalo Higuaín and Mesüt Özil. Long before Cristiano Ronaldo added his 43rd of the year in the second half, los Merengues had wrapped up the match, a fate confirmed when Javi Martínez was dismissed with just over 15 minutes left. With the win Real Madrid had their title, dropping Athletic Bilbao to eighth. Had Athletic’s Copa spot not already put them back in Europe, they’d be on the verge of missing out.
Athletic’s is not an uncommon story among those jockeying for Europe. Only one of the teams sitting fourth through 10th won during the mid-week match day. Mallorca, that club, has won three in a row and climbed all the way to seventh place. Two weeks ago, Joaquín Capparrós’s team sat 14th. Now they’re one point from Europe. Such is the sudden weakness of Spain’s mid-table.
It’s something nobody’s noticed. Even with the season’s last Clasico more than a week in the past, most are still focused on Real Madrid and Barcelona. Lionel Messi’s in the news for breaking records, while Real Madrid’s there for winning what José Mourinho call his most difficult title.
Perhaps with that settled, people can start taking note of the rest of the league. Then again, on match day 36, there wasn’t much to notice.
Elsewhere in Spain
Stuff that stuck out:
- The flip side to Mallorca’s ascension was Rayo Vallecano’s descent. Whereas a month ago the Madrid-based club was coming off a 6-0 demolition of Osasuna and was looking at a top-half finish, five straight losses have then only three points from the drop. On Wednesday, Rayo found the woodwork before Mallorca’s second half goal extended the losing run.
- The means Zaragoza have a chance to stay up. For most of the season, they’ve been in last place, though a late winter surge gave the economically-challenged club hope. Edu Oriol’s early goal against visiting Levante gave Zaragoza another upset, and with closing matches against Racing and Getafe, Real may actually stay up. Again.
- Real Betis’ 1-0 win at the Sánchez Pizjuán not only gave the club a win over their arch rivals, it pulled the club even on points with Sevilla. Few would have thought that possible at the beginning of the season, but with Sevilla having only taken one point from their last four, Betis may be looking down on their rivals at season’s end.
- Villarreal extended their unbeaten run to five games with their win at Sporting. They’re now four points clear of the drop, far enough in front that we didn’t bother listing them in the relegation race. It’s been a difficult year for the Yellow Submarine, having lost their best player for most of it. That Nilmar’s been hurt and Santi Cazorla was sold created a perfect storm, the club only good for 39 goals this season. It’s a kind of confluence you can’t deny – you can only survive. All they need to do is get to the finish line and start over.
Up next: Barcelona hosts Espnayol for a Catalan derby while Valencia and Villarreal have on of their own. As far as matches that influence the races, Mallorca will host Levante is a shockingly important fixture, Real Zaragoza has a must win match against already-relegated Racing, while Atlético hosts Málaga.
This is what it looks like when you win the one of the two biggest leagues in the world:
Anything involving tighty whities? I’m out.
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