Madrid surrender two goal lead in final game of campaign

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With an exciting La Liga season drawing to a close, we bring the spotlight onto our Game of the Week for one last time.

Our final Game of the Week saw Real Madrid surrender a two goal lead away from home in a thrilling tie at Villarreal that will live long in the memory of those present at Estadio de la Cerámica.

Having tested Fernandez’s handling twice early on, Madrid took the lead on 11 minutes through a driven effort from Gareth Bale – the winger captalising on some sloppy defending to give his side the lead.

The goal marked the Welshman’s 16th in 26 appearances for Los Blancos this season, a respectable return considering the run of injuries that plagued the early months of his season.

Madrid then doubled their lead in the 32nd minute when Marcelo picked up the ball on the left-hand side of the box before finding Cristiano Ronaldo with an outrageous outside of the foot cross, who duly headed home.

The header put the Portuguese striker on 26 goals in 27 games, a record that saw him land on 115 points for the season.

Madrid appeared to be on their way to a comfortable three points at the break but were to once again fall foul of the inconsistencies that have damaged them over much of the season.

Having put pressure on young Luca Zidane’s goal for much of the second half, the Madrid defence was breached on the 70 minute mark when Roger Martinez blasted home what was his first and only goal of the season to breathe life back into the tie.

The game was then blown open just five minutes before time when Samu Castillejo sprung the Madrid offside trap before calmly rounding Luca and sliding the ball into the offside trap.

The young keeper will undoubtedly believe he could have done more in the one-on-one situation but will have been more aggrieved with the manner in which his back line switched off at such a critical moment.

The goal saw Samu end the season on six following what has been a bright campaign that has yielded 50 points.

Despite a late flurry of activity from a stung Madrid side that peaked with a fine Benzema effort that forced a fine save from Fernandez, Madrid were unable to reinstate their lead.

The draw will have been a disappointing end to the domestic campaign for a Madrid side who would have liked to have finished on a high ahead of their prestige match against Liverpool in the Champions League final.

Failure to win in Kiev could see Zidane senior’s position as head coach at the Bernabeu come under considerable threat.

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Barcelona secure emphatic league title in Game of the Week

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Our La Liga game of the week saw a Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona run out 4-2 winners at the Estadio Riazor as they overcame a robust Deportivo La Coruna side to claim a 25th title.

With Barcelona knowing that victory would be enough to reclaim the highest domestic honour from bitter rivals Real Madrid, the visitors came into the tie focused solely on the goal of sealing a title that has been months in the making.

And it appeared that the game was set to go according to the script early on, when Philippe Coutinho met a Dembele pass first time to swing the ball inside the far post on six minutes – netting his 11th goal across the Premier League and La Liga in 2017/18.

The visitors then doubled their lead a little over half an hour later when Messi  took down a looped Luis Suarez ball before driving it past Deportivo keeper Martinez.

However, if Barcelona had expected that they might walk to the title then they were gravely mistaken.

Just two minutes after Messi had put Barcelona two goals ahead, Lucas Perez then halved the deficit when he rounded off a counter attack to score his sixth goal of the season and put himself on 29 points.

Emre Colak then put the hosts level, capitalising on some slack Barcelona defending to put his side level on the 64 minute mark and earn himself a place in our team of the week.

This proved to be the wake-up call that Barcelona had needed, with the league leaders having been guilty of coasting after the break.

Despite their renewed vigour, it wasn’t until the 82nd minute that Barcelona finally made the break-through – Leo Messi again the creator in chief as he turned several Deportivo defenders before stroking home after an audacious one-two with Luis Suarez in the box.

Suarez then set up Messi for a third time just three minutes later, as his team mate ensured he would be taking home the match ball to add to his La Liga winner’s medal.

The hat-trick goal caused scenes of delirium among the Barcelona players and topped off a scintillating solo performance from the Argentine who now has 154 points and 32 goals for the campaign.

The Catalan side must now host arch rivals Real Madrid as they keep their collective thoughts on the prospect of finishing the campaign with an unbeaten run in tact – something that would in itself be a tremendous accolade to the successes of their campaign.

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Tricky fixtures see Roberto Martinez on the brink at Everton

Considering the praise Everton manager Roberto Martinez received around six months ago for leading the Toffees to their best points tally in the Premier League, it seems strange to think he’s potentially just a handful of games away from being sacked, but that’s the Spaniard’s reality at present.

Everton haven’t come close to replicating the highs of 2013/14, and are currently languishing in the bottom-half, enduring a six-game winless run on the division. It doesn’t get any easier for the Merseyside outfit, with a ruin of tricky games to come.

A resurgent Crystal Palace side at Selhurst Park will be a test, but clashes against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in the coming weeks won’t help matters. Form shown by Everton this season doesn’t give supporters much hope that they will pick up many points during that tricky period, which could see Martinez walking the tightrope.

No manager is unsackable, and drastic measures will certainly be taken if a club’s long-term future is at stake. Everton have enjoyed strong top-half finishes largely for the last decade in the Premier League, but are currently closer to the relegation zone than 10th place.

The season is well past the mid-point now, and Everton can’t hit last season’s points tally even if they won all their remaining league games. Everything in going against the manager at present, and there is only a slim hope in the Europa League that could turn things around in his favour.

Everton are being ruled out of a top-six finish in the Premier League already, while out of both domestic cups too, but their European dream remains the only solace from a disappointing campaign under Martinez. And he’s the man who shoulders the blame. Everton chairman Bill Kenwright won’t want to let the Spaniard go on a knee-jerk reaction. Any decision made won’t be on one result alone, but on the club’s future past this season.

Relegation is still a possibility, given the Blues are only four points above the drop zone at present. So their position in the table, and Premier League status are both under threat, they have a difficult run of games to come that could see problems ensue in the weeks ahead.

Is Roberto Martinez nearing Everton exit?

On the 28th of December, Everton lost 3-2 away to Newcastle in the Premier League, with the Toffees having thrown away a one-goal lead early into the clash. The defeat to Newcastle was Everton’s third on the bounce, their fifth in seven league outings, and piles the pressure on manager Roberto Martinez going into the New Year.

The Spanish coach could not be having a more contrasting 12 months, with his debut campaign on Merseyside seeing Everton fourth in the league with 37 points from 19 games. Midway through this season, and the Blues are eight places and 16 points worse off. It sees Martinez on the brink with Everton closer to the relegation zone than any side in the top-eight of the table.

Only Alan Irvine (West Brom) and Alan Pardew (Newcastle) are ahead of Roberto Martinez in the bookies for ‘next manager to exit his post,’ and the 41-year-old has recently admitted how concerned he is about Everton’s poor form.

“It is concerning. We have had no momentum in the league and concede goals. Everything that could go against us went wrong. We have to rectify that. As a team we have to stick by our principles. We have to be a stronger team from this. We have not lost the talent from last season,” he said.

Everton’s defensive record in the biggest problem, with only Queens Park Rangers (34) having conceded more goals than the Toffees (31). Dropping points to bottom-half opposition such as Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Hull City and Stoke City has seen the Merseyside outfit plummet down the table, and confidence is low in the camp.

The last clean sheet Everton kept was at the start of November (0-0 at home to Swansea City), where they have since earned just two wins from the following nine games. Martinez has taken the flak for the poor run of form, and with Manchester City (home), Liverpool (home), Chelsea (away) and Arsenal (away) as four of their next eight league games, things don’t get any easier for Everton.

Losing games so readily was something that didn’t happen last season, and Everton have already matched last season’s total of eight defeats for 2013/14 in half the time. Toffees chairman Bill Kenwright gave David Moyes more than a decade at the club, but will the struggling Martinez be given similar treatment?

Martinez’s attacking football won’t save him in a results business

When Roberto Martinez was hired by Everton to replace David Moyes, there were genuine concerns from the Goodison Park faithful. The Spaniard’s Wigan Athletic side had been an entertaining one to watch but fallen out of the Premier League in a haze of bad defending and sloppy goals. The fear was that Moyes’ trademark obduracy would be replaced by pretty attacking football and a porous backline.

Martinez’s first season suggested those worries were misguided. Everton conceded only 39 goals in 38 games, the third-fewest, behind champions Manchester City and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, in the top flight. It was one fewer than Moyes’ final season in charge and with 11 more goals scored, the Toffees appeared in good shape.

The first seven games of the new season have brought those concerns back to the surface. No team has conceded more than Everton’s 16, not even bottom of the league Queens Park Rangers. Everton have kept one clean sheet – in their only win, over West Brom – and are fourth-bottom, outside of the relegation zone by two points. Everton are one bad set of results from dropping to the foot of the league.

Bad luck, injuries and individual errors have combined to blow apart Everton’s back four. Sylvain Distin, one of the highest-rated defenders in last year’s EuroFantasyLeague, has spent time out injured, amid internet rumours of a fall-out with the manager. Martinez has denied there was a bust-up but regardless, Distin has looked short of his best and was understandably dropped for John Stones – also now injured.

Tim Howard, the third-best scoring goalkeeper in EFL last year, had a nightmare of a game against Crystal Palace, giving away a penalty and making another error that directly led to a goal. Martinez can’t legislate for occasions such as the often-reliable United States international making mistake after mistake. Howard, while far from perfect, has been a reliable presence for almost decade.

But the manager ultimately carries responsibility for his team’s flaws. Martinez’s commitment to attacking football is admirable and has gone down well on the blue half of Merseyside. He is well-liked and respected – but that won’t protect him for long if Everton continue to plumb the depths, looking more like relegated Wigan with each passing game.