5 Talking Points from Matchday 31 – Crucial Cartera & Bruno’s return

5 Talking Points from Matchday 31

LaLiga matchday 31 is now complete and while it was a week that was relatively low on goalmouth action with just 10 goals in the 9 games following on from Villarreal’s 2-2 draw with Sevilla, there were still plenty of talking points. It was a matchday that saw Bruno Soriano make his long-awaited return from horrible injury problems for Villarreal, more than 3 years on from his last match, as well as a 15 year old debutant for Mallorca in the shape of Luka Romero.

LaLiga matchday 31 results

Monday 22nd June

Villarreal 2-2 Sevilla

Leganes 0-0 Granada

Tuesday 23rd June

Real Valladolid 1-1 Getafe

Levante 0-1 Atletico Madrid

Barcelona 1-0 Athletic Club

Wednesday 24th June

Alaves 0-1 Osasuna

Real Sociedad 0-1 Celta Vigo

Real Madrid 2-0 Mallorca

Thursday 25th June

Eibar 1-0 Valencia

Real Betis 1-0 Espanyol

Links lead to the official Youtube highlights.

5 Talking Points from LaLiga Matchday 31

by Robert Barter (@RobertBarter16

Bottom Three Doomed?

Following on from a poor matchday 30 for the clubs at the bottom, proceedings continued in even worse vein here, with Leganes the only one of the bottom three to register a point, Mallorca and Espanyol both falling to defeat on the road.

While for several fleeting days it appeared Abelardo would pull off another escape, the 1-0 defeat Espanyol suffered at the Benito Villamarin has them now eight points adrift. The dull draw achieved by Leganes does little for their own bid for survival and games remaining opposite Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid only further cement their status as a club seemingly doomed to second tier football next season.

Similarly for Mallorca, who have yet to travel to San Mames, the Metropolitano and the Sanchez-Pizjuan, the bottom three suddenly looks set in stone despite there being seven games still to play.

Victories attained by Eibar, Celta and Real Betis have only added to their misery, as Eibar host Leganes on matchday 34 before travelling to face Abelardo’s Espanyol several days later. If it is not confirmed already these games may serve to condemn either side to relegation, a circumstance very surprising given Espanyol’s 7th placed finish last campaign.

Better from Betis

Given the quality of the squad in comparison to their struggles, it was only a matter of time before Rubi was dismissed. In their first game with Alexis Trujillo at the helm, enduring his second stint as interim manager, as is normally the case the side made an immediate improvement. A 1-0 victory over Abelardo’s Espanyol should have all but confirmed their status as a top-flight team.

The game also produced the first clean sheet for Los Verdiblancos in seven games, the defence looking a lot more resolute with the 3-4-3 formation as opposed to the 4-3-3 Rubi had reverted to following the restart that brought only one point from their opening three games.

It was, ironically, former Barcelona centre-half Marc Bartra that scored what proved to be the winner, his well placed header at the near post the goal that may prove the one that ends Espanyol’s hopes of survival.

Sat now in 13th on 37 points, games with Levante, Osasuna, Alaves and Real Valladolid present further winnable opportunities, as Trujillo may look to make the role a permanent one, having been replaced by Quique Setien in May 2017 the last time he took temporary charge.

Differing fortunes in the race for Europe

With Atletico picking up another 1-0 win to pull themselves clear of Sevilla in 3rd, every side placed 4th to 8th went winless leaving Sevilla still with a four point advantage on Getafe who sit in 5th.

The more games that play out, the more it seems likely Lopetegui will claim fourth spot. Sevilla host Valladolid as the first game of matchday 32, while the chasing pack lock horns with each other, Villarreal welcoming Valencia to the Ceramica on Sunday before Getafe and Real Sociedad square off inside the Coliseum on Monday night.

Despite leading twice against Sevilla inside the Ceramica, a Paco Alcacer inspired Villarreal could not see them off to claim all three points. Credit must go to Calleja for the marked improvements he has made and to Jose Bordalas’ Getafe who for the second season running have thrown their hat into Champions League contention, but it appears as though Sevilla’s quality will just see them over the line.

Crucial Cantera

While it was always going to be a difficult game, few would have foreseen the difficulty Barcelona encountered when attempting to break down Gaizka Garitano’s Athletic Club inside Camp Nou late on Tuesday night.

Despite recording over 70% of possession and forcing the play for large portions, only two of Barcelona’s twelve attempted strikes hit the target. Following on from an extremely sluggish and uninspiring First Half, in which Griezmann continued his dismal run of form and centre-half Gerard Pique was probably their best player, substitutions made by coach Quique Setien changed the game as Barcelona continued their pursuit of Real Madrid at the top.

With Busquets having been booked and Griezmann fruitless on the left, the introductions of young starlets Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati completely swung the game in the Catalan’s favour. Ivan Rakitic was also introduced for Arthur, who is seemingly on his way out of the club, and it was the Croatian who scored the winner, a nice finish following a fortuitous deflection as three points were arduously won over tough opposition.

With Bilbao firmly in the race for Europa League football next season, Barcelona will be relying on them to take points off Real Madrid with the destination of the title no longer in their hands, but Barcelona’s tough fixtures at Balaidos and the Ceramica still await them, not to mention their home clash against Atleti.

Ruthless Real

In a game that had the potential to cause difficulty for the league leaders, who were missing the irreplaceable Casemiro, a 2-0 scoreline didn’t do much justice to Mallorca as they visited Madrid’s training complex in Valdebebas, with their play arguably deserving at least a goal.

For all their early pressure, they fell behind, a Vinicius Junior strike – again not without controversy with an apparent foul from Dani Carvajal in the build-up going unpunished – reinstating Madrid’s status as leaders, before a fabulous free-kick from Sergio Ramos secured the 120th goal of his career as well as all three points.

Considering the chances Mallorca had to score, coming close with Baba and Madrid-loanee Takefusa Kubo, it was a surprise to see Zidane utilise the attacking 4-2-3-1, Fede Valverde providing the sole pivot in midfield as Bale, Hazard, Vinicius and Benzema were supported up front with the playmaking of Luka Modric.

Madrid’s tendencies to struggle against the sides near the bottom on the road this season gives Barcelona a glimmer of hope as they travel to face Espanyol on matchday 32, but their best chance of dropped points may come next Sunday when they visit San Mames.

About Robert Barter 11 Articles
Football writer for LaLiga Expert & Zicoball.