The final lap of the 80th La Liga season is fast approaching and with only nine more games left to go we are in for quite an entertaining run until the final day. The title chase gets interesting between the top two and the bottom half of the table is tight to the point that the difference between a win and a loss could mean relegation.
The title chase is hotting up as both Real Madrid and Barcelona are battling it out atop the table with the blaugrana holding the advantage over their arch-rivals with a five point’s edge. However, there is still that one “major” game to be played at the Santiago Bernabéu on April 16, El Clásico. Prior to the clásico, both teams will have three difficult games- Barcelona will meet Villarreal at El Madrigal, where most Madridistas will be hoping to see them drop maximum points, followed up by a visit from Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League and then finally they will welcome relegation threatened Almería to the Camp Nou. Meanwhile, Real Madrid will first face Sporting Gijón at the Bernabéu, followed by a visit from English outfit, Tottenham Hotspur and then a trip to the hostile, San Mamés to face Athletic Bilbao. If things all go Madrid’s way then a win in the Bernabéu will be good enough to see them climb to first and it would be up to them to survive the final six games. But that’s all precognitive. When one looks at the final stretch post-clásico, Barcelona will be in better shape than Real Madrid as los blancos will have the likes of Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal away from home whilst, the only stern test for Barcelona in the final six games will be a home game against cross-town rivals, Espanyol and with the parakeets’ road form this season, I’d say the game may prove not much of a test for the blaugrana but who knows.
European Club Competitions
The race for a berth directly into next season’s UEFA Champions League group stage is at stake as both Valencia and Villarreal are neck and neck, tied on points with Villarreal holding the advantage of a far better goal difference than their cross-town rivals. The two teams still have a game against each other in the Mestalla in round 31. Villarreal’s final stretch may prove far more difficult than their rivals as they have games against Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla, with the games against the big two taking place in front of their home fans. Valencia on the other hand, has only Villarreal and Real Madrid to think about and both games will be at home for los che. Also, a tough away game against Espanyol might turn out to be a banana skin for the boys with the bats on their shirt. A fourth place finish for either side might not be so bad as they are assured a spot in Europe but will have to begin their season earlier as they would have to qualify for the Champions League group stage. Failing that, they are guaranteed a spot in the Europa League.
Next season’s Champions League is not the only continental club football that most teams are looking to qualify for. Others have their sights set on the Europa League and quite a few teams are within a chance of qualifying. Currently, Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao hold on to the final spots, respectively. However, Sevilla are just outside on goal difference, while, Atlético Madrid is only three points behind Sevilla and Bilbao. Mallorca also has an inside shot, sitting only four points behind Athletic Bilbao.
Mid-table and the relegation battle
The bottom end of the table is just as tight as the top. In fact, it is far more congested at the bottom end of the table. Teams sitting mid-table are not entirely “impregnable” as tenth place Osasuna has only a nine point lead over 19th and 20th and has a slim six point lead over 18th- two bad games coupled with a few good games from the bottom three could see them slip into a battle for the remainder of the season. And if you remember, it took until the last day two seasons ago for the Pamplona side to save themselves from relegation when they defeated the mighty Real Madrid in the Reyno de Navarra 2-1. Tenth to 12th are all tied on 35 points, whilst, 13th place Getafe is only a point behind and Racing only two behind in 14th. However, Getafe and Racing are most threatened by a potential relegation fight as they hold only a meagre five and four point cushion, respectively, over 18th. A rather hapless Deportivo side, that not so long ago was referred to as “Super Depor” is in quite a precarious position as they sit 16th on 31 points, two points above 18th and five out of 19th and 20th with away games against prime relegation candidates Málaga in round 31 and Hércules in round 33, but also has a difficult away match against league leaders Barcelona in round 37. Additionally, they host tricky games against, Atlético Madrid, Valencia, Racing Santander and Athletic Bilbao. In between, they will have a game against another team desperately close to the bottom three in Sporting Gijón away from home and one against European competition hopefuls, Mallorca. Real Zaragoza face the threat of relegation also as they sit 17th, one point above 18th place Málaga and four above 19th and 20th. Málaga, Almería and new-comers Hércules are the league’s worst teams this season and find themselves 18th-20th respectively. All three teams are well off the “acceptable” 43 points mark, which is described by many as the minimum amount of points to accumulate in a season if a team is to avoid relegation.
With nine games left in the final run to the end of the season and so many unpredictable outcomes it should certainly make for fantastic entertainment. Will Real Madrid prevent arch-rivals Barcelona from winning their third consecutive league title, thereby ending their drought of two seasons without a major trophy? Or will the blaugrana slip up in the final stretch thus handing the merengues their 32nd La Liga title? Who will finish third- Valencia or Villarreal? Which teams will be playing in the Europa League next season? Which teams will be relegated? Will Almería’s “fairy tale” run of four consecutive seasons in the top flight come to an end this season? Will Hércules survive their first season back in the top flight after a 13 year hiatus? Is Málaga’s three year stint in the top flight close to an end? Is Deportivo’s first division life coming to an end after 19 consecutive seasons of top flight football? Will Zaragoza escape the drop? Many questions to be answered but can only be justly answered come season’s end- in what should be quite an intriguing final stretch of games.