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The end of the season comes as a relief for Zidane


As the final whistle blew at Cornellà, a throng of Espanyol fans invaded the pitch in the kind of choreographed jubilation not seen all season. Finishing seventh doesn’t feel like much of an achievement, but for Espanyol it means to come out the other side of a humdrum tunnel. Some years ago now, their former president, Sánchez Llibre, claimed each year was worse than the previous one: no Europe, fear of relegation. Living and playing for nothing. Hence this outbreak of hope and ambition and clinging to the last train leaving for Europe – and with it three disagreeable summer knockout ties. At least it's something to look forward to and with this year's surprise package in Wu Lei to boot.

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Best of the rest

The same train slipped past both La Real, Los Pericos’ opponents on Saturday, and Athletic, who came close: in injury time they hit the bar and in the same breath they missed out on a 'golden-ticket point' and Sevilla made it 2-0. Athletic’s pain explains Espanyol’s gain… and joy. In terms of Champions League qualification, business concluded without much ado. Valencia beat Valladolid to finish fourth – a reward for their strong second half of the season - and Getafe made do with the Europa League, taking away the satisfaction of having punched above their weight and squeezing the most out of their resources.

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Madrid and Barça

On Sunday the curtain comes down on Madrid and Barça’s seasons with nothing to play for. Barça won the league by some distance, although the Liverpool fiasco has left a sour taste behind and tainted any enjoyment – such is the value we place on the Champions League. As far as Madrid are concerned, the end of the campaign is a gloomy one, in which the latest toil and trouble comes from Zidane cutting a worn-out figure. That glorious, almost unapproachable air he had before has given way to increasingly gruff press-conference responses. He has not improved upon Lopetegui or Solari and has spurned the merits of Reguilón and Llorente, and even Vinicius now seems like a spent word. Zidane, more than anyone, needs that curtain to come down on the season.