9 games remain in this seasons’ Primera Liga and while the title will surely head to one of the two Spanish giants, the race for European football next season could provide more excitement. Just 6 spots are made available for teams looking to challenge the continent next season but as Real Madrid and Barcelona sprint towards the title, teams below have a huge few games ahead of them to ensure they manage to finish in the top dozen. Here I survey the contenders;
Valencia: 3rd 47pts
It is in cup competitions that Valencia resort to to enjoy any sort of success as the monopoly of La Liga prevents the team from the Mestalla from mounting a serious title challenge. Champions League football once again must suffice and another season of building will not please the fans but Valencia have no real alternative. Having been comfortable in 3rd for the majority of the season, Valencia have come under increasing pressure of late from Levante and Malaga with the latter now level on points.
Tricky treks to Malaga, Espanyol and Real Madrid beckon in the near future which could panic both the fans and manager Unai Emery. Nevertheless, Valencia should be challenging the top two next season – albeit in the group stages of the Champions League. Some glory can come from winning the Europa League in May as a tricky quarter final against AZ Alkmaar looms.
Malaga: 4th 47pts
Qatari-bankrolled Malaga are the newbies on the scene and have stormed into Champions League contention with 5 wins from 6 games, as well as a credible draw at the Bernabeu. Players like Joaquin and Santi Cazorla have maintained a steady position in the table so far and look to be building a head of steam perfectly. Should their stunning form continue, they could topple Valencia in 3rd and enjoy an exciting European adventure next season. Must watch out for a tricky run of fixtures at the end of April however – Osasuna A, Valencia H, Barcelona A and Atletico Madrid A.
Levante: 5th 44pts
La Liga’s surprise package of 2012 continue to go strong in their quest for a top 6 finish. Levante have shocked the pundits and nestled in 4th place for large parts of the campaign and remain in contention for a European position with less than 10 games to play. Arouna Kone’s goals have helped Levante, as has their decent form at home – a factor which could ultimately prove pivotal in the final standings. May just not make the grade ahead of Valencia and Malaga but have enjoyed proving a lot of doubters wrong should they cling on and seal a Europa League position.
Osasuana: 6th 43pts
Draw specialists of La Liga, Osasuna aren’t the most attacking of teams in the top 6, but they’re very difficult to beat as Barcelona will testify! A 3-2 defeat of the Catalans marked the beginning of an impressive run of just 1 defeat in 8 and has lifted the team above Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid into the green zone. Sturdy at home and awkward away from El Sadar, Osasuna could profit from those currently sidetracked in Europe. Need to become a bit more potent because if they concede an early goal, 34 strikes this season isn’t something to raise hopes of a comeback.
Espanyol: 7th 40pts
Catalunya’s lesser heralded team made the final of the Europa League not so long ago and will hope to have another chance of reaching the climax of the same tournament next season. They remain in contention for Europe but you never quite know what to expect with Mauricio Pochettino’s men; a dazzling run of high scoring games is about as likely as being sucked into the lower reaches of mid-table. Consistency is the key and Espanyol haven’t grasped that this season.
Atletico Madrid: 8th 39pts
Just 4 points adrift of the Europa League, a competition they remain in currently, Atletico could easily sneak in at the end of the season. Diego Simeone has organised Madrid and transformed them into capable opposition with Radamel Falcao leading the line and scoring at will. Fatigue from that Europa distraction could alter their prospects somewhat as Atletico seek to win the trophy for the second time in a matter of years, but this season was all about transition having lost De Gea, Forlan and Aguero last year. A platform is there for a Champions League surge next season but another assault on the continent’s finest isn’t out of the question just yet.
Sevilla: 9th 39pts
They’ve remained quiet for much of the season but Sevilla find themselves in a position to pounce and catch the teams ahead by surprise. Like Villarreal, Sevilla fans probably expected more from their team but it hasn’t quite ended up that way as Frederick Kanoute’s scoring boots have yet to be found. If they snap out of their trance and put a few results together then they can force themselves into the chasing pack, giving teams a reason to panic.
Getafe: 10th 39pts
Do they have the pedigree to make a late dash and skip over the 4 teams currently in front of them? I’d disagree and I feel that their results against the teams above them will have more of an effect on final standings than a charge of their own.