It has become a yearly occurrence for the bottom of Spain’s premier division to take us until the final day to find out who has the privilege of hosting Real Madrid and Barcelona again in the next campaign, usually providing much greater excitement than the title race. This year is no different as Barcelona have all but sealed the league championship from Real Madrid, boasting a massive 13 point gap, whilst at the foot of the table six teams are battling for another season in the top flight. Athletic Bilbao are just about safe by our predictions so the three relegation spots are most likely to be filled by either Osasuna, Celta Vigo, Deportivo La Coruna, Zaragoza, Granada and Mallorca.
Alongside Zaragoza, Osasuna are the only one of the six to have kept faith with their manager throughout the campaign. The trust shown by the Osasuna board has allowed Jose Luis Mendilibar and the club to maintain Osasuna’s stability throughout the season and little has gravitated unlike some of the chaos seen at fellow relegation rivals. Mendilibar is aware of Osasuna’s main problem – their goalscoring – but has adapted and formed a resolute defence which has resulted in Osasuna having the 4th best defence in the division, just behind the Madrid duo and Barcelona. Mendilibar’s strategy, although excruciatingly painful to watch, has been rewarded with faith from the board and despite the team’s lowly position, the solid backline should keep Osasuna away from any real danger and in La Liga for another season.
Deportivo La Coruna
A month ago many would have agreed that Deportivo were the QPR of La Liga; rock bottom and contingency planning for a difficult season in the second tier. Since then however the Galicians have enjoyed a monumental run of results against their relegation rivals, collecting 13 points from a possible 15. The derby win over Celta Vigo was the spark for Deportivo who then recorded two successive 3-2 wins against Mallorca and Zaragoza before a resounding 4-0 win against Levante last week. The transformation under Fernando Vazquez has been miraculous amid all the turmoil raging on inside the Riazor boardroom but Depor now look to be playing with the verve they showed when they sealed promotion last year. It has been a hectic and turbulent season but could yet end on a similar high to last year, if Vazquez can encourage his team to continue their impressive recent streak. Those wins against the teams around them could be what keeps them in the division come the end of the season.
How Granada have spent so long outside the bottom three is a mystery. The team is assembled predominantly from loan signings, as it was last year, and the club doesn’t appear to benefit from the system. Granada have encountered problems going forwards and at the back throughout the season, scoring the least goals bar Osasuna and have conceded 51 goals, the fourth worst in the division. Yet they can prove to be a stubborn side at times, recently showing some form that suggested they might not face another late scramble to avoid the drop this season. Four wins in seven in January, including against Real Madrid, gave Granada hope but have been winless since, only staying above the drop zone due to poor form from the others around them. In recent times Granada have shipped goals, 11 in their last three, and when your left-back is top scorer (Siqueira with 5) then you know you have problems. I expect Granada to sink into the relegation zone in the coming weeks and remain there until May.
Another side who appeared to be showing some resistance was Mallorca, with two successive wins against Sevilla and Granada in March. Five straight defeats knocked them to the foot of the table but now look to be climbing back. Their problem throughout the season has been their inept defence, conceding goals thanks to sloppy mistakes on a regular basis. Whilst the problem still lingers on the island, Mallorca have countered their faulty backline with their seasoned strikers. Alfaro and Giovanni Dos Santos have bagged of late, as has Emilio Nsue who I tipped to be Mallorca’s saviour a couple of weeks ago. Mallorca are a desperately inconsistent side, especially at home and require their returning master Gregorio Manzano to find a way to get the best from his players. Predicting Mallorca’s form is almost impossible but the massive game with Zaragoza next week could be what decides their fate.
I touched on Zaragoza a few weeks ago with regards to their goalscoring. Now with just 7 from open play it has all become a bit too predictable from Zaragoza who could find their incredible run of surviving in La Liga about to come to an end. Their defence is marginally better but not to the standard to keep the team in the top flight. Like Granada, the team is poor at both ends of the pitch and has capitalised on other teams dire performances for too long. Zaragoza are winless in 2013, picking up just 5 points from 42 available which has led to their gradual slide into the bottom two. It will be tough for the side to find any real momentum aside from the improbable escapes of the past few seasons. However, Manolo Jiminez’s side do have fixtures against Celta Vigo (Monday) and Mallorca to come which could spark a Deportivo-esque revival going into the final few games.
Five points from safety and without their star man Iago Aspas, the mood seems very low in the southern area of Galicia. Celta could have given themselves a huge boost towards survival by beating their arch rivals Deportivo but lost 3-1 and put in a woeful performance. To make matters worse, Aspas received an 8 game ban for a headbutt and misses Celta’s run-in and Depor have since gained momentum and jumped out of the bottom three. A credible 2-2 draw with Barcelona was followed by another two defeats as the writing appears to be on the wall. The game against Zaragoza will determine their fate if the result is anything less than a win but in truth Celta seem resigned to relegation and the only saving grace would be for arch rivals Deportivo to join them.