Curtain Call – ¡Hay Liga!Posted: April 20, 2012
When Real Madrid went 13 points clear at the start of March, it looked as if José Mourinho would finally break the Barca stranglehold on the La Liga title. But gradually, the Catalans have clawed the gap back to only four points. The two clubs will meet at the Nou Camp this Saturday, which, if Mourinho’s men get result, would surely decide the title. The league championship is not the unresolved issue in the league, with both other Champions League and the Europa League places up for grabs, whereas the relegation places seem to have already been decided.
If Barca can get a win on their home patch this Saturday, then it will blow the title race wide open. After Saturday’s game, Madrid will face Sevilla at home before making the daunting trip to San Mamés to face Athletic Bilbao. Bilbao will be fancied by many to take at least a point in that game so it is important for Real Madrid to go into these two games with their four point lead still in tact. Barca seem to have an easier run-in with their toughest fixture looking like Rayo Vallecano in Vallekas the week after ‘El Clásico’.
Then, of course there’s the small matter of Real Madrid and Barcelona meeting in the Champions League final on the 19th of May, although both sides will have to overcome first leg deficits to reach the show-piece final in Munich.
If there is anything in La Liga that will provide entertainment until the final day of the season, then it will be the race for the all-important two remaining Champions League spaces. All of the teams from 3rd place down to 11th can all realistically seek to claim a spot in Europe’s top competition for next season. The favourites are currently Valencia and Málaga. Valencia are in 3rd place at the moment and have been ‘the best of the rest’ in Spain for the past two seasons whereas Málaga are in unchartered territory. Their big spending last summer has seen the Andalucians with a real chance of making the Champions League for the first time.
The outsiders are surprise packages Levante and Osasuna, who lie 3 and 5 points off the pace respectively, while perennial league under-achievers Atéltico Madrid along with Sevilla are on 45 points in 8th & 9th which is also the same number of points that Marco Bielsa has guided Athletic Bilbao to in 7th place.
The relegation dogfight is the only matter in Spain that seems to have already been decided. Earlier on in the season, it looked as if last years 4th place side Villarreal were going to dragged back down to La Segunda for the first time in years. They lay in 18th for most of the season, although the gap between themselves and 10th was as little as three points at one stage. The gap between Villarreal and 18th now stands at six points and it looks like Sporting Gijon, Real Zaragoza and Cantabrian outfit Racing Santander will be dropping down a division.
Due to the level of quality that exists in Spain, it has raised the prospect of La Roja’s club sides winning both European trophies this season. Of the 8 sides in the semi-finals of the Champions League and the Europa league, five are Spanish. It’s quite possible that both European trophies could be in the hands of La Liga come May. An El Clásico Champions League final could be taking place in Munich; mouth watering to say the least, while the Europa League final is guaranteed to feature at least one La Liga club, with one of the semi-finals being the all Spanish encounter between Atlético Madrid and Valencia.
When all is said and done, it promises to be a very exciting end to the season to look back at. Most fully expect Real Madrid to hold onto their lead and become champions in four weeks time. Barring a miracle, it looks as though the two teams in the 3rd and 4th Champions League spots will hold those places until the end of the season. But a fierce battle will ensue as three of the teams in the mix for those places are still battling to win the Europa League. Either way, there is a league in Spain, and it is more competitive than the rest.
As most Spanish papers are now saying after Barca’s closing of the gap at the summit; ’Hay Liga’.