Balaidos, Vigo – The boos arrived at Balaidos along with the half time whistle. Celta Vigo’s players were greeted with whistles and jeers as they made their way off the pitch; this was prior to conceding a further two goals in another limp second-half display in which new signing Ryad Boudebouz received a straight red card and was given his marching orders. The frustration – both on and off the pitch – was palpable. If Celta do not markedly improve, they will soon be given their own marching orders out of La Liga.
This was Celta’s 12th league defeat of the season, the second most in the division. But it was the performance beyond the result that’s the most concerning for the Galicians. Baring a surprising 1-0 win over Sevilla two weeks ago, Celta have suffered defeat after defeat for a few months – this was their seventh in eight matches to be precise. Confidence is waning and so is time. Miguel Cardosa was hired in November in an attempt to resurrect a possible drifting season following the experiment of bringing in Antonio Mohammed from Mexican football which struggled to get off the ground.
Since his appointment, Cardosa has struggled to have the desired effect. Celta – now just two points above the relegation zone – appear a shadow of their former selves. A club who were a scuffed Jon Guidetti shot away from a Europa League final 18 months ago having taken Manchester United down to the wire are now too close to the drop for comfort. Last season was far from spectacular but was nevertheless another mid-table finish which was met with gratitude for stability. A sense of stability that their Galician rivals Deportivo La Coruna have not had of late; bouncing between Primera and Segunda.
However, this season is turning out to be Celta’s toughest for some years. When they were promoted back to the Spanish top-flight in 2012, following five seasons in the second division, Celta managed to escape relegation on the final day. Since then the ride has been relatively comfortable, consistency was brought by Luis Enrique and Eduardo Berizzo, until now. One might say that it started to unravel last season when Juan Carlos Unzue guided Celta through a rather unremarkable season and was then let go. A sense that change was needed; to go with the upgrades that their stadium was receiving, there was an agreement that Celta needed an enhancement.
The appointment of Mohammed was with the aim of removing complacency and reinvigorating a promising albeit possibly comfortable set of footballers. However, with any conscious choice to change things, there is always the possibility that there may be adverse effects. Having changed manager yet again a few months ago, and the desired effect not being realised, Celta now find themselves without a coherent plan. Celta’s squad is not formed to be a part of the relegation dogfight, and it is proving troublesome.
FINAL #CeltaLevante 1-4
— LaLiga (@LaLiga) February 16, 2019
The difference from the confident and attacking Celta that wowed with their style to this current side is quite remarkable, and in part dictated by circumstances. It may sound absurd but this Celta side has been built to be higher up the league standings than close to the drop, they are more suited to being up there than down here but that in itself helps describe why Celta are struggling although it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Maxi Gomez and Iago Aspas are two of the best strikers in La Liga but have struggled to muster any momentum this season. Aspas is the local boy who went away, tried his hand at Liverpool and Sevilla and has since returned home. He is a Celta player and, in many respects, Celta’s player. But this season he has not played enough; a calf muscle strain kept him out for two months and when it looked like he was on the verge of making his comeback, he suffered another muscle strain…in the warm-up on Saturday. When things aren’t going your way and all that. But in fact Aspas may be feeling the strain in other aspects too, there is almost too much pressure and expectation on Vigo’s son.
Gomez, meanwhile, has also had a bitty season in which suspension and injuries have hampered his replication of last season’s impressive performances. Seventeen La Liga goals last season put Gomez in the spotlight and even garnered interest from the Premier League with West Ham potential suitors, but having managed nine league goals already this season there is a feeling that he is not at his fluent best. In many ways, the disjointed season that Celta’s leading men have had is symbolic of the entire team; struggling for consistency.
Sergio Alvarez, Celta’s goalkeeper for nine seasons, has been dropped whilst the sales of playmaking midfielder Daniel Wass and energetic left-back Jonny to Valencia and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively have been heavily felt. There have been plenty of transfers both in and out of Celta with promising B-team striker Borja Iglesias moving to Espanyol and wracking up 10 league goals this season; how Celta could have done with him as a backup. There is a belief that Celta have tried to change too much too quickly. What has altered quickly has been their performances.
Against Levante, Brais Mendez was deployed up front and looked completely misplaced leading the line, it was apparent that he had never played in that position before; albeit he did score the late consolation penalty, for what it’s worth. “I had no other solution,” Cardosa claimed. Diario AS stated that it would be “impossible to have a more negative debut” than that managed by Boudebouz; he was lacklustre on the right wing before getting sent off for a ridiculously high challenge laced with frustration early in the second half.
There were some positives; Hugo Mallo and Fran Beltran provided Celta with some impetus but often their efforts were in vain. Okay Yokuslu put in a display to match his name and was Celta’s most creative player in central midfield. Cardosa highlighted the efforts of his players but ultimately that alone was not enough. “We made some mistakes that cost us the game, with 99 per cent we are not going to win, you have to give 100 per cent to win,” the Celta coach said post-match.
He was reluctant to answer questions regarding his future; whether removing him now would be beneficial really is unknown.
Despite the half time headshaking by sporting director Felipe Minambres and general director Antonio Chaves following a pitiful first half from Celta, credit must be given to Levante who were trying to resurrect a period of indifferent form themselves. Paco Lopez’s team are seven points and seven places above the relegation zone and this victory was well earned and equally needed. Levante were superior throughout and a piece of fine combination play between Ruben Rochina and Jose Luis Morales got the scoring underway inside 20 minutes. A good pass and even better control by Morales presented the chance to shoot which Levante’s commander dispatched.
Even with only one goal conceded, Celta were rocking and the visitors sought more. Moses Simon fired a swift shot at goal and brought a good reflex save from Ruben Blanco. Celta did create one chance to level the scores when Mallo, the Celta captain, got his left foot to the ball but couldn’t force it past Aitor in the Levante net. Soon enough though a second came for Lopez’s side. From a corner kick, for which Celta had nine players back defending against three Levante attackers, Coke was too quick and anticipated the delivery to head past Blanco.
If the first half had been poor for the hosts then the second half started even worse. There were barely four minutes of second-half football played when Boudebouz made a sliding tackle and lifted his foot so high that he caught Morales’s thigh with his studs. Born out of frustration, his action only increased the annoyance amongst the Celta ranks. Cardosa charged around his technical area, berating the officials and out of control. Aspas, as hot-headed as ever, was furious with his new teammate just as much as the referee. Emotions got the better of Celta and it did them no good whatsoever.
Borja Mayoral played a nice ball through the Celta defence to Morales who remained calm and collected – as all around were losing their heads – to slot home his second just after the hour mark. The game was over and so, for another week at least, was Celta’s attempt at resurrecting their season. Apart from two wayward shots from Stanislav Lobotka and Okay, Aitor was redundant. A late foul on Boufal brought Celta a penalty and a consolation of sorts but the margin of three goals was restored when Mayoral eased past Wesley Hoedt and placed the ball through Blanco’s legs. This was the cherry on top of the cake; the icing had long been applied.
Los Otros Puntos
Had Real Madrid not put in such an energetic first-half performance, which saw them take the lead against Girona, then one could have accused them of sleepwalking through the second half in the early match on Sunday. The second half was in stark contrast to the first; Real erroneous and fraught whilst Girona didn’t look like a side without a win in 13 matches. The three points will be valuable to Eusebio Sacristan’s side who are deeply involved in the relegation battle, but it is the confidence of beating Real at the Bernabeu that will give the Catalans the biggest boost. Real in truth threw this one away; Marcelo started at right back giving Reguilon a much-needed break but the Brazilian practically assisted Girona with both of their goals. Though the visitor’s didn’t care about that and neither did their supporters judging by the way in which they greeted their team home.
— Girona FC (@GironaFC) February 17, 2019
Jordi Masip was the last to leave the pitch as he stood offering his thoughts to LaLiga TV’s touchline reporter after a fine goalkeeping performance at his former home. He was on the turf of the Camp Nou where for years he had been back up to Victor Valdes but this was the evening when Masip showed the Barcelona crowd how good he is as a number one. Valladolid left with a one-goal defeat, Masip repelled everything barring a Leo Messi penalty. It was enough for the league leaders, but had it not been for Masip the score would have been greater; a Messi first-time shot, a Luis Suarez poke, another Messi penalty, a header from the rebound and a Suarez shot were all kept out by the impressive Masip.
— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) February 16, 2019
Sevilla’s slippery slide from second place continued away at Villarreal. The Andalucian’s wretched away form continues in the league – they are without a win on the road since September – and this 3-0 defeat was certainly unexpected. Though Villarreal were worth their win and it would be no exaggeration to say that this was Los Amarillos’ best performance of the season. And that Carlos Bacca assist was quite something…
| GOAL!! |
Villarreal double their lead against Sevilla just before half time!
A fantastic team goal finished off by Ekambi ? pic.twitter.com/0nJB7r7KpN
— Eleven Sports (@ElevenSports_UK) February 17, 2019
Meanwhile Real Sociedad ‘dismantled’ Leganes as Marca put it. Goals from Mikel Oyarzabal and Willian Jose propelled La Real to within touching distance of the European places.
Charles was the name on everyone’s lips at Ipurua on Friday evening, his double brought Eibar back from the dead to draw with Getafe.
This was the weekend, when two teams in danger of relegation beat two teams in the top four, which highlighted further what a mad and wonderful season we are having in La Liga.
Eibar 2-2 Getafe
Celta Vigo 1-4 Levante
Rayo Vallecano 0-1 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 3-0 Leganes
Barcelona 1-0 Valladolid
Real Madrid 1-2 Girona
Valencia 0-0 Espanyol
Villarreal 3-0 Sevilla
Real Betis 1-1 Alaves
Huesca – Athletic to be played on Monday