ICYMI La Liga: Is Marcelo Real Madrid's Best Player?

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ICYMI La Liga: Is Marcelo Real Madrid's Best Player?

With all the soccer to watch, you can be forgiven for missing some of it. Fortunately, we at Paste watch all the games just in case you can’t. Here’s what you missed in La Liga this weekend:

1. Marcelo Saves the Day

It takes a lot to upstage Cristiano Ronaldo, especially on a weekend like this past one, but Marcelo did it against Valencia. Yes, Ronaldo scored yet again to pull within two of the all-time scoring record in Europe, and any other week that would be the headline. But it was the Brazilian left back who saved the day—and a vital three points—for Real Madrid.

Marcelo took the blame for last week’s stunning Clásico loss, admitting he should have done more to prevent the late game-winner. And while Messi’s stunning pose stole the headlines, Marcelo’s told just as much of a story: face in the grass, pounding the turf and gasping for air. He ended this match on the turf again, but this time pumping his fist in celebration after his game-winner decided a crucial match, a 2-1 victory.

Valencia raised their game yet again on their visit to the Bernabéu, and it looked as if they may have altered the title rice when Daniel Parejo’s free kick fizzed into the top corner just ten minutes from time. But Real Madrid’s incredible comeback streak continued just a few minutes later when Álvaro Morata’s excellent dribble and cross landed at the feet of the Brazilian wingback. If his left foot isn’t magical enough, this time he showed off his right, cutting inside past the Valencia defense and curling an unstoppable weak-foot shot—if you can call it weak—past a sprawling Diego Alves.

Real Madrid’s scoring streak passed an incredible milestone in this game—it has now been more than a calendar year (since April 26, 2016) since Real Madrid were held scoreless in any game. But equally impressive are their late-game heroics. Of the 53 matches in that scoring stretch, 17 of them have included a game-winning goal in the final ten minutes. In fact, more than 20% of their goals all season have come after the 80th minute.

But this game was another reminder of how vital Marcelo is to Real Madrid. In inarguably the deepest squad in Europe, his is the only position without a suitable backup. And yet week after week he proves his worth, as he did this past weekend against Valencia, a goal that ended in a wild, picture-perfect leap into Sergio Ramos’ arms. It seems like he’s been around forever; after all, he made the trip to Real Madrid straight from South America nearly a decade ago as a skinny short-haired teenager. But he’s incredibly just 28 years old. Right now he’s hitting his peak, and has plenty left to give.

The end-of-season plaudits will almost certainly go to Cristiano Ronaldo, with the bizarre Messi vs Ronaldo duopoly often confusing Real Madrid’s success with CR7’s. Yet Marcelo has arguably been Real Madrid’s best player this season. Considering Real Madrid is in line for a historic league and European double, as well as Brazil’s dominance in World Cup Qualifying, it’s time to recognize Marcelo is one of the best players—let alone fullbacks—in the world.

2. Suárez Ends his Drought

Barcelona’s hopes for a comeback title win rest on their not dropping any more points this season, so regardless of Real Madrid’s result, only a win would do against local rivals Espanyol. Early on it looked like Barcelona would get frustrated again, with a stale first half against a stubborn defense from their fellow Catalans. But it was an inexplicable pass from Espanyol’s José Manuel Jurado that broke the deadlock—for the wrong team. Luis Suárez pounced on the back pass in his vintage predatory form, snapping his five-game scoreless streak for Barcelona.

Ivan Rakitic and Suárez again made the final scoreline a comfortable-looking 3-0, even if it didn’t reflect how the game felt at halftime. The derby has turned one-sided of late, with Barcelona unbeaten in 18 games against Espanyol, winning 15 of those along the way. Nevertheless this win was vital, pushing Barcelona to the league summit once again, for now. Real Madrid still control their destiny with a game in hand but have no room for error with Barcelona nipping at their heels.

3. Atlético enjoy their island vacation

Atlético Madrid now sit comfortably in third place, but need to keep their form up for a possible Champions League-winning send off for the Vicente Calderón. This weekend was a difficult one: Las Palmas, who play on the Canary Islands, have been a tough road fixture this year for a lot of teams. But with their first-division secured and European dreams long gone, Las Palmas look like a team on vacation. That has never been more apparent than this weekend, when it took Atlético less than two minutes to open the scoring, and just 17 minutes to be three goals up. Atlético never looked back, finishing with a rampant 5-0 win.

The future of Las Palmas looks uncertain with their passing mastermind coach Qique Setién linked with a move away along with Kevin Prince Boateng. But despite a hiccup midweek against Villarreal, Atlético are looking to be hitting one of their hottest stretches of the season. It’s come right on time with a chance for European revenge against crosstown rivals Real Madrid.

4. Sevilla stumbling to the finish

Last week, the architect of this Sevilla team, Monchi, was announced as the new sporting director for AS Roma in Serie A. This week, the other half of the duo that seemed so exciting to start the year may have found his next destination as well. Argentinian federation officials confirmed this week Jorge Sampaoli is their pick to replace Bauza as head coach of their national team. After his huge success with Chile including back-to-back trophies over Argentina in the Copa America, Sampaoli will return to the international format in which he has seen great success. With Messi headlining Argentina’s roster—a player Sampaoli has not been shy about praising in the past—it seems like a good fit. But it’s hard not to be disappointed his time at Sevilla is ending after such a promising start.

As the leadership of the club has crumbled around them, so has the team. In another result that can only be euphemistically described as “underwhelming” they were walloped 4-2 by Málaga on Monday. After a season that started with such excitement, Sevilla are stumbling to the finish line, and they need to be careful. Just five points above Villarreal, they will need at least a couple more results to ensure Champions League football next year.

5. Two teams down, with another coming up

It’s that time of year again, where top division teams have to start planning for second division futures. Osasuna and Granada were both officially relegated from the first division this week, while Sporting Gijón—six points away from safety with just three games to play—are teetering on the verge themselves.

But let’s focus on a nice story: Levante, who were relegated last year, have officially gained promotion back up to the first division, and ownership is celebrating generously. Club officials have announced that all fans who went to at least 85% of their home games this season in the Segunda will receive free season tickets for next season when they return to the top flight. Levante president Quico Catalán said, “the fans had to be, and are, part of this success.” In all, about four out of every five fans of the club’s membership will get a free pass next year.

Goal of the week

It came late in the weekend, but Málaga’s Pablo Fornals’ top corner screamer takes the honors this week.

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