LaLiga pauses for a much needed breather after a congested period which has seen full weekend and midweek fixtures lists in successive weeks. Every team in the Spanish top flight won at least one of their four games during the period and at the end of it, we are almost none the wiser as to which teams will end up dropping into the Segunda Division.
The last matchday did at least produce one definitive outcome with rock bottom Elche having their relegation confirmed following defeat at Almeria. Los Franjiverdes are also now guaranteed to finish in 20th place, but with just two points currently separating 14th and 18th in the table, it’s going to be a real fight to the wire to determine the identities of the other two relegated teams.
5 to Play – How the Bottom Half looks
Espanyol’s failure to defend a 2-1 advantage at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan on Thursday night means they are currently the side in most danger of joining Elche in next season’s second tier. That result also effectively guaranteed Sevilla’s safety but Mallorca (12th) and Celta Vigo (13th) may still have a bit of work yet to do.
Almeria, Cadiz, Real Valladolid, Valencia and Getafe are so tightly bunched together though that every single point will feel massively important over the remaining weeks of the season. Should two or more teams finish level, head-to-head points and if needed head-to-head goal difference will decide who finishes higher.
Had the league finished this week, Valencia would have survived by virtue of their superior head-to-head goal difference over Getafe (they beat them 5-1 at Mestalla but lost 1-0 at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez). It would be no surprise if head-to-head was needed come the final weekend which adds even further importance to those key relegation six pointers.
Why 40 Points may not be enough
Everyone in LaLiga with the exception of Elche and Espanyol currently averages better than a point per game which suggests we are on course for an exceptionally high survival mark this season. Relegation-threatened teams typically get better results in the final weeks as they take on teams with little left to play for, so it’s quite plausible that 40 points will not be enough to stay up this term.
40 points has been sufficient for top flight survival in each of the last ten LaLiga seasons. You have to go back to 2011/12 when Villarreal were surprisingly relegated with 41 points for the last time a team went down despite passing the 40 point barrier.
However Elche’s calamitous campaign is one factor in pushing up the points totals of the other teams with the league’s bottom club having failed to win and only collected five points against sides currently in the bottom eight. The relative weakness of the sides pushing for Europe could also be viewed as a possible factor in a league where Sevilla, in deep relegation trouble themselves only a few weeks back, are now in with an outside shot of European qualification.
|Real Madrid (A)
|Real Madrid (H)
|Real Valladolid (H)
|Real Sociedad (A)
|Real Valladolid (H)
|Real Valladolid (A)
Right now, it feels like we have six teams trying to avoid two places, although Valencia could potentially pull Celta Vigo back into the equation by winning at Balaidos next weekend.
Of the six sides in most danger, only Espanyol and Real Valladolid still have three home games to play whereas the others all have two home fixtures left and three away. However, it’s hard to see any real advantage for those clubs, particularly Espanyol whose problems are compounded by having to host a Barcelona side that could clinch the title in next weekend’s Catalan derby. They also have to welcome Atletico Madrid to the RCDE Stadium and arguably have the toughest run-in of the lot, as well as the fewest points.
Home form has been absolutely vital for a number of these teams all season and that trend is likely to continue over the coming weeks. 81% of Almeria’s points have come at the Power Horse Stadium and they’ll view home fixtures against Mallorca and Real Valladolid as their most likely path to safety. Getafe have bottom club Elche and mid-table Osasuna to play at the Coliseum, fixtures which may well determine their fate. They’ll take a lot of confidence from beating Celta Vigo at home this week, their first outing at the Coliseum since reappointing Jose Bordalas.
Cadiz will also sense big opportunities when they welcome Real Valladolid on MD35 and Celta Vigo on MD37. Sergio’s team have perhaps the best run-in of the teams in danger, with a final weekend trip to already relegated Elche also presenting them with a really good opportunity to put three points on the board.
The Key Games at the Bottom
Matchday 35: Cadiz vs Real Valladolid
Matchday 37: Valencia vs Espanyol | Almeria vs Real Valladolid
Matchday 38: Espanyol vs Almeria | Real Valladolid vs Getafe
Much will depend on the outcome of the key relegation duels with five remaining fixtures between teams currently placed between 14th and 19th. Four of those games fall in the final two matchdays which means we could end up with some tension-fuelled fixtures that almost feel like relegation play-offs come late May and early June.
Real Valladolid are the side with the most relegation six-pointers left to play as they take on Cadiz, Almeria and Getafe in three of their final four matches. Masters of their own destiny they will be, regardless of the results in their other games against Sevilla and Barcelona.
Espanyol also face direct relegation rivals in their final two games. However they’ll most likely need a win before then if they are to stand a realistic chance of survival, and that won’t be easy given the difficulty of their next three games.
Their showdown with Valencia at Mestalla on the penultimate weekend feels like it is going to be absolutely enormous. Ruben Baraja’s side don’t have a particularly kind of set of fixtures aside from that, but followers of Los Che can perhaps console themselves with the knowledge that upcoming opponents Real Madrid and Mallorca aren’t really competing for anything, while it’s also possible that Real Betis will have secured European qualification before the clubs meet at the Benito Villamarin on the final weekend.
Who is most likely to go down?
There are so many moving parts and factors that could determine the outcome of this relegation battle, that it’s impossible to confidently predict which teams will survive and which won’t.
However right now, it’s fair to say that Espanyol are the clear favourites to go down alongside Elche. They are a best priced 1/4 with the bookies to be relegated, an implied probability of 80% that they are playing second tier football next term.
That would be a disastrous outcome for a side with the considerable talents of Sergi Darder and Joselu, and a club that sits 7th in the all-time Primera Division standings having only spent one season outside of the top flight since 1994. In truth though, we’ve seen little improvement since the appointment of Luis Garcia with an inability to stop the flow of goals conceded a recurring theme all season.
After that, you can get odds of 5/2 for each of Valencia, Getafe and Real Valladolid to be relegated. Cadiz can be backed at 7/2 to go down while Almeria (9/2 to be relegated) are viewed as the side mostly likely of the six teams to stay up. Odds of 80/1 for Celta to go suggest there is only fractionally more than a 1% chance of the Galicians dropping out of the top flight, although Carlos Carvalhal and his staff won’t be sleeping comfortably just yet.
As we saw last season though, when Granada were clear favourites to survive on a final weekend that ultimately saw them go down after a frustrating home draw against Espanyol, nothing can be taken for granted in the pressure cooker of a relegation battle.
This particular picture is likely to continue to swing one way and another and may well go down to the very final minutes of the season.