La Liga in focus: Barca key is Luis Suarez, the best centre forward in the world right now

Andy Mitten writes with the La Liga title to be decided on the final day, it is Barcelona's likely Pichichi winner who is most likely to determine the end results.

Barcelona's Luis Suarez celebrates his second goal in his team's La Liga win over Espanyol on Sunday. Albert Gea / Reuters / May 8, 2016
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Camp Nou was in control. Sunday was the last home game of the season, a potentially tricky derby against Espanyol, but as Barcelona extended their lead towards a 5-0 triumph, an unusual atmosphere enveloped the stadium.

Fans didn’t know whether to celebrate – and there were celebratory Mexican waves – or to hold fire until they’d actually won the league.

News would seep through of another Real Madrid goal in their 3-2 win against Valencia, or of Atletico not winning at Levante.

Atletico would lose 2-1 to an 89th minute Giuseppe Rossi winner, knocking themselves out of the title race. They have been defeated six times in the league this year, never by more than a single goal. But they’ll be cursing losing at the bottom club.

None of it appeared to matter at a damp Camp Nou. Barca knew that they'd be champions if they won their last two games, both against struggling teams. They won one, now they've got to beat a Granada side who confirmed their safety with a 4-1 win at Sevilla.

• Read more: Luis Enrique – Barcelona managing title tension 'in the best way possible'

• Also see: Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar score as Barcelona stay in title track – in pictures

The end of the Spanish league always turns up odd results. Teams with nothing to play for don’t play. Teams who can help a rival are often offered money to win. It’s seldom reported, but it’s not illegal. Granada’s players are likely on a bonus should they beat Barcelona and help Real Madrid to the title – and that bonus won’t be coming from Granada.

Don’t be surprised either if Deportivo La Coruna’s players are on a bonus to beat a Real Madrid side who know all about losing the title on the final day of the season.

Spain’s first league title was going to Real Madrid until they lost at Athletic Bilbao in 1929 on the final day, while Barca beat Basque side Real Union to be champions. The most recent time was in 1994 when leaders Deportivo drew at home to Valencia, while Barca beat Sevilla to become champions for the third time in succession on the final day of the season.

What happened in the two previous years is still astonishing. In 1992, Tenerife beat Madrid 3-2 at home, while Johann Cruyff’s Barca won against Athletic to win the league. In 1993, Tenerife again beat leaders Madrid at home in the last game of the season and Barca again defeated a Basque side, Real Sociedad, to become champions.

Madrid hope for the improbable, but they’ve done well to be in contention and they still have a European Cup final to look forward to.

Zinedine Zidane's side are in form with 11 straight wins, especially their three strikers Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. The Frenchman scored his 24th league goal this season, more than in any season since he moved from Lyon in 2009. Bale's also had his best season in Spain, while Ronaldo has returned to form after some indifferent patches this term, scoring 33 league goals including his 200th at the Bernabeu in all competitions on Sunday.

None of them have scored as many as Luis Suarez, whose two goals against Espanyol took him to 37 in the league – more than the entire Espanyol team. Espanyol have also conceded a club record 72.

Suarez will almost certainly win the Pichichi on Sunday and become the first man since his compatriot Diego Forlan in 2009 to break the Ronaldo/Lionel Messi duopoly. Suarez may play as a number nine, but along with Messi he's made more assists (16) than any other striker in European football this season.

While Messi and Ronaldo are indulged with freer roles, Suarez is a more traditional centre forward who works the central defenders, chases balls in the channels and can play with his back to goal before bringing his stellar teammates into play. He’s not as skilful as Neymar or Messi, but he’s a peerless finisher who works hard for his team, who is deceptively strong and who runs into defenders with the ball – and comes away with it.

Suarez, who has scored 10 league goals in his last four games, is a major reason why Barxa should retain the league title. He’s the best centre forward in the world right now.

Relegation overview

If it wasn't for Eibar's home holding just 6,100 supporters, Getafe's attendances would be the worst in La Liga. Their average crowd is 6,523, down 10 per cent on last season, in part because they've had such a poor season. Getafe are not even loved in Getafe, a far from beautiful industrial city whose population of 180,000 is easily big enough to support a top-flight team. A problem is that most fans there support Atletico or Real Madrid.

Getafe are a problem for La Liga. The league try to market themselves as the best in the world, but television images at Getafe’s home south of Madrid show a stadium which is seldom a third full and rows of sun-bleached sky blue seats. Their stadium has a grand ‘Coliseum’ title, but such a name is a disservice to the reality.

Getafe would not be missed, especially when there are big teams in the second division: the Reals of Zaragoza and Oviedo, Osasuna, Elche, Cordoba, Alaves and Valladolid.

The worst scenario for the league from a marketing perspective is that Getafe stay up and are joined by Leganes, the side who currently top the Segunda. They, too, are a poorly supported club from a satellite city south of Madrid.

On Sunday, the Coliseum was at least fuller. Helped by a huge 3,500 strong Sporting Gijon away following, plus a far larger than normal home turnout thanks to lower ticket prices, over 13,000 watched the key bottom of the table match. Both teams needed to win to boost their chances of staying up, but the game finished 1-1. The point helped Getafe move above Rayo Vallecano and out of the relegation zone with a game to play. That game is at Real Betis.

Two from three will have their fate sealed on Sunday. Rayo Vallecano are second from bottom in 19th and on 35 points. They play at home to relegated Levante. Win and they have a chance of staying up, but only if Sporting and Getafe in the places above them don’t win. Sporting, who were only promoted last season, are on 36 points, the same as Getafe. They’re below the Madrid side in the league because of a worse head-to-head record. Sporting play at home in Asturias to Villarreal, who confirmed fourth place a couple of weeks ago. Villarreal are managed by Asturian Marcelino, a former coach at Sporting who admitted that he wanted them to survive.

Rayo and Sporting will be a bigger loss than Getafe. They both have superb support and Rayo took 2,000 fans to see their side lose at Real Sociedad on Sunday. Rayo play entertaining football, they attack the best teams.

But as it stands they’re second to bottom in the league, with the worst form and and going down. They’ll take heart from the 27 different possible permatations of results though.

Player of the week

Juan Carlos Valeron, 40, played his final home match after 21 years and 760 games as a top-flight footballer. The Canarian returned home to Las Palmas in 2013 after 13 years at Deportivo La Coruna, where he reached the Champions League semi-finals. The playmaker who appeared 45 times for Spain received rapturous applause from the 27,410 crowd as he told them it was time to quit.

Game of the week

Granada v Barcelona. It’s the game which matters most, though if Barca are not leading, attention will shift to the Riazor for the Depor v Madrid game. It’s exciting that the league is going to the last, exciting too that the relegation battle is still alive, but don’t be surprised to see Getafe, Sporting and Rayo all win.

What else?

Real Betis are 14th, but, with an average home crowd of 38,082, they’re the fifth best-supported team in Spain this season behind Barcelona (77,195), Real Madrid (71,748), Atletico (46,777) and Athletic Bilbao (41,984). Their neighbours Sevilla have enjoyed another more successful season, but Betis average more than 4,000 fans per home game. They also attracted more fans than Valencia.

Five thousand Granada fans travelled across Andalusia to Sevilla, where their team won 4-1 to confirm their survival. Former Barca player Isaac Cuenca was Granada’s star man. The winger has a point to prove against the team who let him go on Sunday, as does another former Camp Nou fringe player, Ruben Rochina.

Sevilla have let their good home form go to ruin, with their focus entirely on the May 18th Europa League final against Liverpool in Basel and the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona on 22nd May.

In the second division, tiny Llagostera gave themselves a chance of staying up with a 2-0 home win against Oviedo. Llagostera haven’t won away all season, but they’re decent at home. They’re four points off survival, but three of their remaining five games are at home. At the top, Leganes and Alaves occupy the automatic promotion spots, while the majority of the division are still in contention for a play-off position.

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