Espanyol pipped Mallorca to THE second division title SEVEN STRAIGHT WINS BLASTED GIRONA INTO THE PLAY-OFF PLACES
Barça’s women WON a glorious League, Cup and Champions League treble BARÇA’S TITLE CHALLENGE FELL AWAY MEEKLY AFTER WINNING THE CUP
The last time I wrote this football column – back in late March – Ronald Koeman’s Barça were in the middle of a run that had title winners written all over it, Espanyol were battling it out for an automatic promotion place and Girona’s season was tailing off into mid-table mediocrity. For all three Catalan clubs the intervening months have brought favourable outcomes, although in the case of Barça, as opposed to Koeman’s men, who fell away disappointingly in the fight for the Spanish league title after winning the King’s Cup in spectacular fashion, it is the women’s team that has claimed the glory.
As mentioned above, it is Barça’s women that take all the plaudits coming into the end of the 2020-21 season, having sealed a glorious League, Cup and Champions League treble, brushing aside the likes of PSG (3-2 agg.) and Chelsea (4-0) in the European competition, and seeing off Real Madrid (4-0) and Levante (4-2) to win the domestic cup. This column normally focuses on the men’s game, but we couldn’t start without a mention of that historic feat by the team coached by Lluís Cortés.
As for Ronald Koeman’s side, their run of picking up 60 from 72 league points from mid-December to early April, including nine away wins on the spin, put them in prime position to snatch the crown from Diego Simeon’s pace-setting Atlético, only to lose their way just when they had the chance to claim top spot. Twice Barça had the opportunity to climb to the summit in the final weeks of the season, but both times they fell away meekly: first there was the devastating and inexplicable 2-1 home defeat to Granada on April 29, and then they threw away away a 3-1 lead at Levante to draw 3-3 on May 11. Sandwiched in between was a lacklustre 0-0 draw at home to leaders Atlético, before a 2-1 defeat at home to lowly Celta left the title dreams in tatters, just five points being taken from fifteen before winning the last meaningless game of the season 1-0 at Eibar. It could all have been so different, but it now looks as if, despite Cup glory, and in epic circumstances at that (a 4-0 trouncing of Athletic in the final following on from dramatic comebacks against Granada and Sevilla), Koeman’s time in charge of Barça may have come to a swift end.
Barcelona’s other big club, Espanyol, enjoyed a successful end to a winning season by sealing the Second Division title on the final day. They had already guaranteed automatic promotion back to the top flight at the first time of asking some weeks earlier, but the head to head battle with Mallorca to actually top the division was only confirmed on May 30 when, despite Vicente Moreno’s side losing at Alcorcón, the news filtered through that Mallorca had let a 2-1 lead slip against 10-man Ponferradina and therefore only managed a draw, leaving the Balearic islanders level on points with Espanyol but behind on the head to head (0-0 at the RCDE Stadium and 2-1 to Espanyol at Son Moix). Welcome back to the big time Periquitos!
Perhaps the biggest surprise in a season full of them was Girona’s blitzkrieg end to the season. Seven straight wins from mid-April to late May blasted Francisco’s side, unexpectedly to most, firmly into the play-off places, meaning they did not even need to win their final game of the season at Cartagena. The 1-1 draw in that game meant they finished 5th on 71 points and will face Almeria in the play-off semi-finals on June 2 at Montilivi and June 6 in Andalusia. The play-offs have not been kind to Girona over the years, and fans will be hoping their side can overcome a run that has seen them lose out to Elche last season, Osasuna in 2016, Zaragoza in 2015 and the same team they face this time, Almeria, in 2013.