2018/19 in Pictures: Games 37, 38 and 39.

Hosting a friend in Madrid for the weekend is the perfect excuse to take in as many live matches as possible. So we did!

Alan and I met when we were studying at Queen’s University in Belfast, which means we’ve known each other for almost 15 years now. In that time we’ve gone on quite a few football trips together and no doubt we’ll have a few more in the future.

The fixture scheduling allowed for two big La Liga clashes and one Segunda match, all effecting the top and bottom of their leagues!

In a little break from the usual formula, I’ll also be letting Alan add his thoughts on each of the games too.

So anyway, here we go!

Game 37: Rayo Vallecano 0-1 Atlético Madrid (Estadio de Vallecas, Madrid – 16.2.2019)

Two sides desperate to return to winning ways met in Vallecas on a very sunny Saturday afternoon. You generally don’t expect February to be quite so warm, even in Madrid and it made part of the match a rather uncomfortable experience.

It wasn’t until around the 70th minute until the sun dropped behind the stand on the far side and afforded us a glare-free view of the game. As a result, my memories of the first half are a bit sketchy. Rayo attacked with purpose as they always do, but came up against a brick wall in the shape of Jan Oblak, while Atlético were badly out of sorts.

It wasn’t until the introduction of Diego Costa, his comeback after a pre-Christmas operation, that Atlético came alive. With him as a focal point for Alvaro Morata to play off and Antoine Griezmann dropping deeper and wider, Rayo suddenly had more to think about and it was one-way traffic for a while.

The goal finally came on 74 minutes and from who else but Griezmann, his shot from Morata’s knock down found the net, albeit via a significant deflection off Jordi Amat. But as always these days, there was some polemica, when the initial cross came in Morata was offside, but his presence forced the weak defensive header which he seized on to set up Griezmann.

There was still time for Rayo to push for an equaliser and they almost got one, but for yet another magnificent stop from Oblak, this time clawing away a Ba header.

So Atlético are back on track, but Rayo’s slump continues. Fine margins decide things in this game.

Alan’s View: “This was the game I was most looking forward to going to. I was a bit surprised at the ramshackle nature of the stadium, even though I knew Rayo weren’t the glitzy club of Madrid. I was also really surprised at how much mixing of fans there was, that’s not really something I’m used to back in Northern Ireland except at some of the smaller grounds. Seeing people in Real Madrid shirts there was weird though!

“On the game itself, Rayo played well but lacked that killer touch, which is probably why they’re so far down the table. Atlético looked nervous after recent defeats but as I’ve noticed many times before, Griezmann is the master of not doing very much, but popping up at the right time to score. Morata still looks a bit off-colour but Costa was very good on his return.”

Game 38: Real Madrid 1-2 Girona (Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid – 17.2.2019)

So… who saw this one coming?

Certainly not me anyway. My pre-match prediction that Alan would get sick of hearing “Hala Madrid” by half time because Real Madrid would score so many goals proved extremely wide of the mark.

They were 1-0 up at half time, Casemiro making the breakthrough for the second week in succession headed in Toni Kroos’ cross and it looked like the European Champions were on their way to a routine victory. Especially as they were playing a Girona team who hadn’t won in the league since the end of November, who had recorded only one win in their last 15 matches in all competitions, who had lost their previous six games including two Copa defeats by Madrid and shone defeat by bottom club Huesca.

But Girona were making chances, lots of them. They didn’t take them, and normally this is the kind of situation where there’s a killer second goal and the plucky underdog falls apart.

Aleix García missed probably the best of them, sending the ball high into the stands when it fell to him just outside the six yard box. But Girona kept attacking and they finally got their reward thanks to an intervention from Sergio Ramos.

Cristhian Stuani hit the post, the loose ball fell to Douglas Luiz and Ramos turned goalkeeper, blocking his shot with his hands. It was a clear penalty, Ramos was booked and Stuani fired home the spot kick to level the scores.

Madrid made attacking substitutions, Bale and Mariano came on as they looked to force a winner, but Girona still looked th better side, Portu rattling the post with Courtois beaten.

But Portu did get his moment of glory when Courtois could only party Lozano’s shot and he was fastest to the follow-up to head in. 15 minutes left and the small contingent of Girona fans to our left were in dreamland.

Madrid, seeing the ground they’d recently made up in the title race vanishing before their eyes, became more urgent. Ramos, playing almost as an auxiliary centre forward, was in the thick of things and naturally enough, managed to get himself sent off. A reckless overhead kick earned him a second yellow card in stoppage time and allowed me to tick “Be at a game where Sergio Ramos gets a red card” off my La Liga bucket list. “Mr Tarjeta”, as one of the sports dailies dubbed him last season, has now received 25 red cards in his Real Madrid career.

So a historic day for Girona, who won at the Santiago Bernabéu for the first time ever.

Alan’s View: “Seeing a game in the Bernabéu is a bucket list experience, it’s one of the best stadiums in world football and as someone who always preferred Barça and the other side of Madrid, it was pleasing to see them lose!

“I was impressed with Girona who had plenty of chances and ultimately deserved their victory. They looked more like the team of last season than the one that has struggled recently.

“Of course Real Madrid miss Ronaldo. This was the kind of game where you feel he could have dug them out of a hole in the past. Vinicius gets you out of your seat but he’s still very raw while Asensio was very disappointing.”

Game 39: Rayo Majadahonda 0-1 Málaga (Estadio Cerro de Espino, Majadahonda- 17.2.2019)

So now for something completely different…

From the glamour of the Bernabéu in the heart of Madrid to the leafy suburbs of Majadahonda and Atlético Madrid’s training ground in the space of an afternoon. But the stakes were no less high, both sides needed the points for different reasons, Málaga to aid their promotion push and Rayo to try and stay in the Segunda.

It was a pretty open game, much like the Depor game I attended here in December with both sides having several chances to score.

Málaga’s greater quality eventually told in the end, Adrián’s massively deflected shot in the 78th minute proving decisive. Rayo did have the ball in the net late on, but the whistle had long since been blown for a foul on Málaga’s goalkeeper.

A side note: Rayo Majadahonda’s club himno is brilliant. Somehow never noticed it at the three previous games I’ve been to.

Seriously, if I was picking a Madrid team based solely on their anthem, they’d be it.

Alan’s View: “This was a rather surreal experience. A trip to the Madrid version of Beverly Hills to see a club playing at a training ground take on a reasonably big club in the second tier.

“A bit like the other Rayo, Majadahonda played well but just lacked something up front. Málaga weren’t great, their new Ukrainian import up top offered little and it was perhaps appropriate that it took a deflected goal to win it.”

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