The second half of the 2022/23 LaLiga Santander season is up and running, and the shocks keep coming, with Matchday 20 producing several eye-catching results. While FC Barcelona won again to strengthen their grip on first place, none of the other clubs who entered this past weekend in European qualification positions were able to secure victory.
Second-placed Real Madrid fell to a 1-0 loss when they visited 10th-placed RCD Mallorca. Third-placed Real Sociedad were shocked 1-0 at home by 17th-placed Real Valladolid. Fourth-placed Atlético de Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw when they hosted 19th-placed Getafe CF. Fifth-placed Villarreal CF became the first team to lose to 20th-placed Elche CF, falling 3-1. And, sixth-placed Real Betis were edged out by 16th-placed RC Celta in a thrilling 4-3 back-and-forth on Saturday night.
These results showed that anybody can beat anybody in LaLiga Santander, with Elche CF, Getafe CF, Real Valladolid and RC Celta all giving their fanbases something to cheer about despite the fact they all entered Matchday 20 inside the bottom five.
The champions can’t breach RCD Mallorca’s defence
Although RCD Mallorca entered the past round of action inside the top half of the standings, in 10th, they were considered to be major underdogs when Real Madrid came to town on Sunday. However, Los Bermellones had the perfect gameplan to overcome Los Blancos, earning a famous 1-0 victory that keeps them in 10th spot but that moves them to within three points of the European qualification positions.
Their veteran coach Javier Aguirre deserves a lot of credit, considering where RCD Mallorca were when he took over for the final two months of last season. With nine fixtures remaining, the Mexican was hired with the Mediterranean club inside the LaLiga Santander relegation zone, in 18th position. By securing four wins and a draw, he managed to secure survival for the club on the final day of the campaign.
Then, given a full pre-season, Aguirre was able to work extensively with the squad and fully establish his blueprint for footballing success. It has worked, as the Mexican’s back five system, which can be either a 5-4-1 or a 5-3-2, has made RCD Mallorca one of the trickiest teams to break through in the entire division.
Ahead of the Matchday 20 duel between RCD Mallorca and Real Madrid, opposition coach Carlo Ancelotti underlined just how tough it is to breach the islanders’ defensive fortress, praising Los Bermellones by stating: “They’re a team that are having a very good season, especially defensively. They’re very solid at the back.”
It wouldn’t have been a huge surprise, therefore, for the Italian to see his Real Madrid team fail to score in Sunday’s game. After an early Nacho own goal, the home side were able to keep Los Blancos at arm’s length, limiting them to just one shot on target, which came when they won a penalty that Predrag Rajković saved from Marco Asensio. That, ultimately, proved decisive to the final 1-0 scoreline.
Rajković to Muriqi, and everyone in between
This victory summed up the islanders’ season, as the two key players in this game have also been the leaders all year long. One is Rajković, the Serbian goalkeeper who was signed from Stade Reims in the summer and who has immediately become one of the best stoppers in LaLiga Santander.
He boasts eight clean sheets from 20 games this season, with only FC Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen having collected more. Overall, Rajković and RCD Mallorca’s record of 18 goals conceded in 20 matches in the fifth-best in the competition.
At the other end, Kosovo international Vedat Muriqi has scored half of the team’s goals, having netted eight of the 16 they have scored so far. That doesn’t include the goal in the win against Real Madrid, which went down as a Nacho own goal, but the ball only ended up in the back of the net because of the pressure Muriqi put on the centre-back.
Of course, both Rajković and Muriqi have been supported by all their teammates in between, and by the efficient tactical system established by coach Aguirre. It really has been a team effort for RCD Mallorca to climb into the top half of the table in LaLiga Santander, a competition where anyone can beat anyone.