The 18th round of matches in La Liga saw the title race effectively reduced to two sides as Real Betis and Atletico Madrid lost their respective games, while Sevilla won and Rayo Vallecano continued their impressive return to the top flight. Here are some things we learned this weekend in Spain.
1. A two-horse title race
Sevilla’s late win at home to Atletico Madrid means they are six points behind Real Madrid with a game in hand. Betis are third, 10 points behind Real Madrid, with Rayo Vallecano 13 points off the lead and Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad trailing by 14 points.
Although it’s clearly not impossible for a side such as Atletico to pull back on their neighbors, a lot would have to go very wrong at the Santiago Bernabeu for that to happen, while Atletico would have absolutely no margin for error in the second half of the campaign.
Unless something very strange happens, the battle for this season’s title looks like a two-horse race between Real Madrid and Sevilla.
2. Youth to the fore at Barcelona
Nobody at FC Barcelona is talking about a title challenge, given that Barca are currently seventh in the table and 16 points behind Real Madrid, and their main aim is to qualify for next season’s Champions League, which is so vital for their battered economy.
There are signs under Xavi Hernandez that the club is building for the future and Saturday’s 3-2 win at Elche showed that Xavi is placing his trust in youth, with the impressive Gavi scoring, along with Nico Gonzalez and debutant Ferran Jutgla.
Barca are still very prone to lapses and there is a lot of rebuilding to do, but the youngsters offer hope in difficult times at the Camp Nou.
3. Home comforts for Rayo
Rayo Vallecano are the revelation of the season with the newly-promoted team having the lowest budget in La Liga and sitting fourth in the table.
Rayo have built their season on a high-octane pressing game, which sees them win the ball high up the pitch and use the wings to quickly get the ball into their opponents’ penalty area.
Rayo are unbeatable in front of their fans in the tight Vallecas Stadium, with Andoni Iraola’s side winning eight games and scoring 19 goals with just three conceded. By contrast, away from home they have just taken five points.
They may run out of steam as the season continues, but with Rayo’s aim at the start of the campaign to avoid relegation, their campaign has already been a success.
4. Defiant Jorge Molina
Granada striker Jorge Molina scored a hat-trick as his side claimed a valuable 4-1 win at home to Mallorca to continue their slow climb away from the relegation zone.
The former Betis and Getafe striker only began his professional career at 23, but has made the most of it since then, netting 26 times in 38 games for Elche, while scoring 66 goals for Betis and 46 for Getafe.
Now in his second season with Granada, he has now scored 14 goals for the club. Not bad for someone who turns 40 in April.