Substitute Lionel Messi scored a pretty passed-in goal, off a pin-ball play, to beat visiting Levante 1-0 in a lackluster match that nevertheless secured Barcelona’s eighth trophy in the past eleven La Liga seasons.
The 91,917 fans had to wait until the 62nd minute to secure their trophy would be held aloft on home ground and the diminutive Argentine was nursing a slight groin injury and sat out the first half. Barca coach, Ernesto Valverde, was resting Messi in anticipation of their upcoming UEFA Champions League semifinals match against Liverpool, but when the Blaugrana were unable to convert on several opportunities he called upon his ace to get the needed home win.
Meanwhile, Girona defeated visiting Sevilla 1-0 to climb out of the relegation zone and give themselves the chance to help define their destiny over the three remaining matches in league play. In Madrid, hosts Rayo Vallecano, dead last on the domestic table and with little chance of avoiding relegation, defeated visiting Real Madrid 1-0 in what was probably the most lackluster presentation by a Merengue squad all year long in La Liga.
Rumors abound about the futures of players at the Bernabeu and yet returning coach Zinadine Zidane reportedly has his heart set on keeping “best striker in the world” Karim Benzema while being ok with potentially getting rid of just about everyone else. With those priorities allegedly expressed in the locker room, is it any wonder his players are not performing?
If in the off-season the coach follows up with his expressed interest in getting rid of Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio, and then has the gall to break up a Kroos-Casemiro-Modric midfield, or a Carvajal-Varane-Ramos-Marcelo/Nacho defense, or ends up trading a Navas or Courtois, well then Florentino Perez fans will have gotten what they deserve.
At Atletico Madrid, with a Champions League worthy second place coupled with a strong returning squad and the continuity of coaching leadership, albeit in the form of Diego Simeone, the Colchoneros seem poised to end the year well and begin even better next year. That Sevilla and Valencia close out the top five is no surprise but Villarreal’s drop to 14th place and Getafe’s rise to 4th are certainly season surprises in this year’s La Liga. Will the last few matches hold more of those surprises in store?
Whatever those final surprises may be, it seems the teams most likely to be promoted next year are past first division visitors while some recently promoted sides may be making the case for longevity in the rare upper air. But as the year nears its end there is more of a feel that this uncharacteristic year, in the ranks below Barca and Atleti, may become the norm but with a few sprinkles in 2019-20.