Xavi’s side are on the verge of completing a memorable season. At the time of writing, they head La Liga with 82 points from 33 games, meaning that although they can no longer hit the magical number of 100 points for the season after notching up 50 from the first half of the campaign, it is only a matter of time before they are proclaimed champion’s in Xavi’s first full season in charge. In fact, they need just two more points from their remaining five games after Real Madrid lost 2-0 at Real Sociedad, meaning a win at Espanyol on May 14th would not only leave their city rivals in terrible trouble at the bottom, but would seal Barça’s 27th league title.
The boy from Terrassa has stamped his personality on the team, which has shown a mixture of brilliance and resolve to put themselves within touching distance of glory. The disappointment of a 4-0 King’s Cup semifinal loss to Real Madrid after bringing a 1-0 lead back to Barcelona following the first leg in the Bernabéu will not take the gloss off what has been a magnificent league campaign. A glorious March brought league wins against Valencia (1-0) and Real Madrid (2-1) at the Camp Nou to go with a 1-0 win at San Mamés, before they started April with a 4-0 drubbing of Elche. That semifinal Cup defeat to their eternal rivals was then followed by 0-0 draws against Girona and Getafe, and question marks were being asked as to whether this Barça had the steel to finish the job, but three wins at the Camp Nou against Atletico (1-0), Betis (4-0) and Osasuna (1-0) – albeit with a poor defeat at Rayo sandwiched in between – have now set them up for their final victory march.
Can the periquitos save themselves from the drop they have flirted with so often in recent years? The replacement of head coach David Martinez with Luis Garcia at the beginning of April following a run of four straight defeats brought no immediate respite, as Espanyol took only one point from the following four games thanks to a 0-0 draw at home to Cadiz. And although the desperately important first win finally came against fellow strugglers Getafe at the RCDE Stadium at the end of April, giving fans renewed hope, they remain ensconced in the relegation places with 31 points from 32 games. With their remaining six fixtures including tough trips to Sevilla and Rayo and home games against Barça and Atlético, it is looking increasingly likely that Espanyol’s hopes will rest on their final two games of the season against direct rivals for the drop: an ailing Valencia at Mestalla and at home to Almeria. However, even two wins from those two games would mean only 37 points, which does not look enough to stay up this season, so they may need to collect those unlikely points elsewhere.
What would make things even more galling for diehard Espanyol fans is the extreme likelihood that, as mentioned earlier in this article, their arch rivals Barça win the title at their stadium in the Sunday evening game on May 14th, or even worse, should Real Madrid fail to beat Getafe and Atlético fail to pick up maximum points against Cadiz and Elche prior to that game, then Espanyol would have to form a guard of honour to applaud Barça onto the RCDE Stadium pitch as league champions before they even kicked off.
Things were looking good for Michel’s men at the end of February, and whispers of European football could be heard in the corridors of Montilivi. But a dismal March brought defeats at Getafe (3-2) and at home to Atlético (1-0) before a 2-2 draw at Rayo, meaning Girona would need a storming end to the season to challenge for the European places. Thirteen points from 18 since then, including a rollicking 4-2 win at home to Real Madrid in late April and an impressive 2-0 win at Sevilla at the start of May have got fans dreaming again under Michel’s steady tutorship, which has seen the team and club grow throughout the campaign.
The epic defeat of Champions Madrid is worth further mention, as it sent the city into raptures as well as bringing their beloved Barça closer to the league title. It was a memorable day for Girona’s number 9 Taty Castellanos, who notched all four of the goals, giving Militao a torrid time in the process.
Girona’s game against Betis on May 28th could prove to pivotal in the race for a European place.