LaLiga set for thrilling final fortnight as the plot thickens at both ends

Atletico Madrid stadium

It was a weekend that was supposed to bring some degree of clarity to matters at both ends of LaLiga. However matchday 35 comes to an end with yet more questions and even fewer answers. 

With a full midweek fixture list kicking off the final fortnight of LaLiga 2020/21, you’d have to be very brave to predict how things are going to pan out. If this season has taught us anything, it’s to expect twists and turns until the very final ball has been kicked.

“Decisive” Matchday 35 still leaves us guessing at the top

Matchday 35 had long been muted as being the key weekend in this title race. With the top four facing off against one another, it was a chance for knockout blows to be landed and for somebody to emerge as the clear frontrunners in this intriguing title race. Instead we got draws at both Camp Nou and the Alfredo Di Stefano, meaning it’s a case of “as you were” at the top. 

That’s good news for Atleti. Leaders for almost the entirety of this season, they are now the only side whose destiny is fully in their own hands. They were good value for their point in Barcelona and will win the title if they win their final three matches. However their recent form and a lingering sense that they are better when they can assume the role of underdogs, suggests there’s still a strong chance that they will drop points. They’ve not won three games in a row in LaLiga since January.

As for Barcelona, they will be beginning to sense that their opportunity to claim an unexpected domestic double has faded. Just one point from four matches against the Madrid clubs this season highlights that they are still too often found wanting in the big games. They need both Atleti and Los Blancos to slip up now after Real Madrid found a late equaliser against Sevilla with Eden Hazard deflecting in Toni Kroos’ strike.

While it wasn’t the result Real Madrid wanted, that was still a much more significant goal than it perhaps initially appeared. It ensured Los Blancos edged ahead of Barça again with Zinedine Zidane’s side perhaps best equipped to take advantage of any Atleti slip-ups, despite a tricky set of fixtures.

Remaining Games
Atlético Madrid Real Madrid Barcelona
1st – 77 Points 2nd – 75 Points 3rd – 75 Points
Real Sociedad (H) Granada (A) Levante (A)
Osasuna (H) Athletic Club (A) Celta Vigo (H)
Real Valladolid (A) Villarreal (H) Eibar (A)

On paper, Real Madrid have the toughest remaining fixture list. However it is worth bearing in mind that their final game may well be against a second-string Villarreal side given the Yellow Submarine play the Europa League Final just three days later.

Atletico Madrid and Barcelona meanwhile close out the season with away games against sides battling relegation. It’s looking increasingly likely that both Real Valladolid and Eibar will still be fighting for safety come the final day so those could be very competitive matches.

The permutations are simple for Atleti. Three wins will see them crowned champions. Should they drop points in any of their remaining fixtures, Real Madrid would defend their title by winning all their remaining games (as they have the superior H2H record on both their title rivals).

For Barcelona to have a chance, they need Atleti to lose one match or draw two and for Real Madrid to drop points at some stage. Should that happen, the Catalans would be the champions should they win all their matches.

Sevilla still have a mathematical chance but that late goal in Madrid at the weekend effectively ended their challenge. Atleti just need to win one of their remaining three matches to make it impossible for Sevilla to claim the title while 5 points for either Barcelona or Real Madrid would also have the same effect, even if the Andalusians win all their remaining games.

Eibar plotting great escape as things tighten at the bottom

At the other end of the table, it’s just as tight and every bit as tense. Even the only thing we thought we knew, is now in doubt. Back-to-back wins means bottom club Eibar are now back in with a fighting chance and just five points separates the bottom six.

Victories over relegation rivals Alaves and Getafe suggest tiny Eibar’s top flight obituaries may have been written too soon. Recio’s 89th minute penalty secured a late 1-0 win at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez at the weekend and Mendilibar’s side suddenly feel like the form team at the bottom.

They were the only one of the bottom six to win this weekend. Elche, Huesca and Real Valladolid, the three sides immediately above them, all lost making 16th place Alaves’ 2-2 home draw against Levante on Saturday ultimately seem like a slightly better result than it might have at the time.

Remaining Games
Getafe Alaves Real Valladolid Huesca Elche Eibar
15th – 34 points 16th – 32 points 17th – 31 points 18th – 30 points 19th – 30 points 20th – 29 points
Celta (A) Elche (A) Villarreal (H) Athletic Club (H) Alaves (H) Betis (H)
Levante (H) Granada (H) Real Sociedad (A) Betis (A) Cadiz (A) Valencia (A)
Granada (A) Sevilla (A) Atletico Madrid (H) Valencia (H) Athletic Club (H) Barcelona (H)

The teams at the bottom have been busy facing off against one another in recent weeks but there is only one genuine relegation six-pointer remaining. That is Elche’s home game against Alaves tomorrow and the outcome will have a huge impact on the respective chances of those two sides.

Real Valladolid are the team with the toughest run-in. All of their remaining fixtures are against sides currently in the top six with that final showdown against Atletico Madrid likely to be an incredibly tense affair. Sergio’s side are 9 without a win in LaLiga and they may need to spring a surprise somewhere if they are going to be playing top flight football again in 2021/22.

Despite that weekend loss, Getafe still have a four point cushion on the drop-zone and with three mid-table teams to play, ought to still feel positive about their survival prospects. 

Things can turn around very quickly though as Eibar have proved and the Basque minnows will suddenly fancy their chances in upcoming games against Real Betis and Valencia. They may need to do the business in those games with title-chasing Barcelona visiting Ipurua on the final weekend.

Huesca also have to play both Betis and Valencia, but their other fixture is slightly more winnable with Athletic Club visiting El Alcoraz this week.

Other things to look out for in LaLiga’s final fortnight

The Race for European Places

The battle for the lesser European places will inevitably go under the radar a little with everything else going on. However, even that is heating up.

Much may depend on the outcome of tonight’s game between Real Betis (7th) and Granada (10th)Victory for the Seville club would most likely mean that Real Sociedad, Real Betis and Villarreal will be the other Spanish teams in Europe next term. However a Granada win would make things interesting with Athletic Club and in-form Celta Vigo also in with an outside chance of qualifying.

Next season there will be three European competitions. The teams that finish 5th and 6th in LaLiga will go into the Europa League while the 7th placed team will be in the newly formed Conference League. However should Villarreal win this season’s Europa League, they’d automatically qualify for the Champions League instead.

The pride of Valencia?

There are only really four teams who right now have nothing to play for in terms of European qualification, league titles or relegation. They are Cadiz, Osasuna, Valencia and Levante (11th-14th in the table). 

While the battle for 11th is unlikely to set the pulses racing, the race to be the top team in the city of Valencia is something to keep an eye on. Levante have never finished above their neighbours in their entire history but are level on points with them heading into the final three games. While there’s not a great deal of pride to be taken from finishing above this current Valencia side, it would still be a milestone achievement for Paco Lopez’s team and ought to serve as some source of motivation heading into their final three fixtures.

Spanish football writer
About Mark Sochon 1538 Articles
Mark is a freelance writer based in Madrid. He has also lived in Seville and Barcelona and has written extensively about Spanish football. His work has been published by the likes of Guardian Sport & World Soccer.