2018/19 in Pictures: Games 40, 41 and 42

A South Madrid double-header and a day-trip which ended in only my second 0-0 of the season.

Game 40: Getafe 2-1 Rayo Vallecano (Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, Getafe, Madrid – 23.2.2019)

Getafe have been La Liga’s unlikeliest success story this season. Despite having one of the smallest budgets in the league, they’ve spent most of the season in the top half of the table and this game against Rayo presented them with the opportunity to do the unthinkable – climb into the Champions League places. And with their early kick off being followed by Sevilla, the current occupants of fourth spot, hosting Barcelona, there was every chance they could stay there.

But first Geta had to get past a Rayo side who were equally desperate for points themselves. A good run of form in January had come to a shuddering halt and although they were unlucky to lose to Atlético the previous weekend, their chances of avoiding relegation were getting slimmer by the week.

On a beautifully sunny afternoon in South Madrid, Getafe started really strongly, pinning Rayo back in their own half and it was no surprise when they took the lead just before the half hour. Jaime Mata (who I tipped as an interesting signing for Geta way back in August) swept home Dmitri Foulquier’s cut back for his tenth goal of the season. But his celebrations were cut short by the intervention of our old friend VAR. There was a possible offside involving Damian Suarez in the build-up but after what seemed like an eternity, including the referee consulting the pitch-side screen himself, the goal was confirmed.

VAR! What is it good for?

Geta were good value for their lead at the break, but as the second half began, Rayo appeared to wake up to the danger they were in. Without the goals of R.D.T. (aka Raúl de Tomás) they would be probably be already cut adrift at the bottom and he brought them level with a superb strike from outside the area on 58 minutes, squeezing his low shot past the despairing five of David Soria.

But Rayo’s job didn’t last long as Getafe’s dynamic striking duo went to work again. Mata was the provider this time, unselfishly squaring the ball to Jorge Molina, leaving the 36-year-old with a simple tap-in to score what turned out to be the winner.

Getafe once welcomed Bayern Munich to the Coliseum in the UEFA Cup, but they way things are going, no one would rule out a reunion in Autumn with the Champions League anthem ringing out.

Game 41: Leganés 1-1 Valencia (Estadio Municipal de Butarque, Leganés, Madrid – 24.2.2019)

Leganés’ continued survival in La Liga depends on their excellent home form. At time of writing, they haven’t lost at Fortress Butarque since September, the last side to win there being Villarreal – a result which looks stranger with every passing week of the season.

I headed there for the second half of my pre-birthday weekend South Madrid lunchtime kick-off double-header (there has to be a catchier way of wording that) boasting my own record of never having seen Lega lose. This came perilously close to being broken in this game.

Valencia finished fourth last season and after a poor first half of the season have been ominously building a bit of momentum for another tilt at the top four. After this game they confirmed their participation in the Copa del Rey Final against Barcelona too.

After goalkeeper Neto had kept out Lego’s talisman Youssef En-Nesyri, Valencia enjoyed the better opening, José Gaya striking the woodwork with Pichu Cuellar rooted to the spot and then they opened the scoring on 22 minutes, Geoffrey Kondogbia heading home Carlos Soler’s free kick.

In the last Lega home game I attended, En-Nesyri scored a spectacular towering header and he almost repeated the trick here, only to be denied by Neto’s outstretched arm.

As the second half wore on, Valencia seemed happy to sit on their lead and run down the clock. Their theatrics were clearly beginning to grate with the home fans, there were lots of whistles every time a player in navy hit the deck. Far be it for Leganés fans to agree with a Getafe player, but most of them probably felt Jorge Molina’s recent description of Valencia players as “cry-babies” was more than justified.

Leganés kept knocking at the door and finally got the goal they deserved with one minute of the 90 remaining. Martin Braithwaite’s initial shot was blocked but fortunately the ball bounced straight back to him and he drilled it home at the second attempt.

They could even have snatched an unlikely victory in injury time, an awful pass out from the back presented En-Nesyri with the chance to win it, but once again Neto proved equal to his shot. All-in-all a draw was probably fair, it was a scorching afternoon and Leganés did well to keep up their intensity for 90+ minutes.

Game 42: RSD Alcalá 0-0 San Fernando de Henares (Estadio Municipal del Val, Alcalá de Henares – 3.3.2019)

A Sunday afternoon trip out of the city seemed like the perfect opportunity to add a new ground to my list.

Situated not far from the historic centre of Alcalá de Henares, RSD Alcalá’s Estadio Municipal del Val is a world away from the top flight grounds mentioned above. It’s ever so slightly dilapidated, I got a soaking from the sprinklers before the game (actually not unwelcome on a really warm afternoon) but there was definitely something charming about it. It reminds me of somewhere I might visit back home in Northern Ireland. In addition, behind the terracing, there was a great view of the hills.

The game was actually a local derby between Alcalá, currently struggling near the foot of the Madrid Tercera group, and CD San Fernando de Henares, who are pushing for the promotion play-offs. But to use the old cliché, the form book seemed to go out the window as Alcalá seemed the more likely winners, frequently being let down by a lack of finesse in the final third, poor control, overhitting key passes, woeful shooting and so on.

As you would expect from a lower-League Derby, there were plenty of heavy challenges and this was facilitated by a referee who initially seemed happy to let a lot of things go, especially in and around the penalty box. But the longer the game went on, the more inevitable it felt that the game wouldn’t finish 11v 11 and so it proved, the visitors having a man sent off with about 25 minutes left.

Alcalá tried to make the most of their man advantage but weren’t able to really trouble the San Fernando ‘keeper, in fact the best save he made actually came from a misdirected header by one of his own defenders. So it ended 0-0, only my second goalless draw of the season, but another relatively entertaining one.

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