The top three in La Liga once again has a familiar look to it despite neither of the Madrid giants particularly convincing this term. The battle to join the ‘big three’ in next season’s Champions League is really hotting up though. The field has narrowed slightly with surprise package Alaves dropping out of contention while Real Sociedad and Real Betis now look too far back to make Europe’s premier club competition. Athletic Club still have an outside shot but could be as much as 9 points off 4th with five to play if they lose at the Bernabeu this weekend which would be surely too much of a gap to close.
However there are certainly three teams who remain in with a realistic shot of snatching that position which would bring automatic entry into the group stage of next season’s Champions League. With 4th placed Sevilla travelling to 5th placed Getafe this weekend, it promises to be a pivotal few days in the battle for Spain’s final Champions League slot.
4th Sevilla (52 Points) – 1/2 to make the Top Four
Rayo Vallecano (H)
Atletico Madrid (A)
Athletic Bilbao (H)
Sevilla have wrestled their way back into pole position in the race for 4th. They looked in danger of completely falling out of the race at the end of a bleak winter for the Andalusian club. However Sporting Director Joaquín Caparrós’ decision to sack Pablo Machin and appoint himself until the end of the season has so far paid dividends.
Under Caparros, Sevilla have taken 12 points from 5 games, the most of any team in the division over the same period. Even a seemingly damaging home defeat to 4th place rivals Valencia has not had lasting consequences and Sevilla are now clear favourites at 1/2 to finish in the top four.
If they can win at 5th placed Getafe in a huge game this Sunday then it would be hard to see anyone else catching them. However that will be easier said than done and they do still have two tough final games away to Atletico and then at home to Athletic Club, who themselves still have a slim chance of getting in the mix.
An early European exit has helped Sevilla focus their energies on league football and that may just help them beat off the challenge of Valencia who still have cup distractions. This Sunday’s game will be vital and if Sevilla can at least avoid defeat, their next three games will offer them the chance to move clear and they certainly look the side most likely to finish 4th now.
5th Getafe (51 Points) – 9/2 to make the Top Four
Real Madrid (H)
Real Sociedad (A)
Getafe have done brilliantly this season and should make Europe whatever happens now. Champions League football is still the main prize though and they’ve shown real battling qualities over the past fortnight to suggest they are still very much up for the fight despite the teams either side of them having much more quality on paper.
Jose Bordalas’ side salvaged a point by scoring a 96th minute equaliser with 10 men at Valladolid last time out and also scored late to beat Athletic in their most recent home game. However a few recent slip-ups have seen them relinquish 4th place and looking at their run-in, they almost certainly will have to beat Sevilla at home on Sunday to stand much chance of playing in the Champions League next term.
Real Madrid visit the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez next week while they still have to go to Camp Nou. Barcelona will most likely have already won the title by then and may field a weakened team given their European commitments but it will still be tough. 4 of their final 6 matches are at home but even the games against relegation threatened Girona and Villarreal won’t be easy with those sides fighting for their lives.
The only thing that seems certain is that this physical Getafe side will keep fighting until it’s impossible and they will certainly give Sevilla a real test this weekend, having already beaten the Andalusians earlier this term.
6th Valencia (49 Points) – 10/3 to make the Top Four
Real Betis (A)
Atletico Madrid (A)
Sevilla fans may disagree, but right now Valencia look the best of the rest in La Liga outside of the top three and they are arguably performing on a higher level than Real Madrid who they beat at the Mestalla a couple of weeks back. It’s just 1 defeat in 20 competitive outings for Los Che now.
With Goncalo Guedes fit and firing again and their strikers finally finding a few goals, Valencia look a much improved team compared to the one that stuttered through the opening few months of the season. However you have to wonder whether they’ve simply left it too late to make their charge.
Their next two games are both tough ones, away at Real Betis and Atletico Madrid. If they are still within touching distance of the top four after those fixtures, they will begin to really fancy their chances again with their final four games all very winnable. However unlike Sevilla and Getafe, they do also have some significant cup distractions.
They should certainly progress from their Europa League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg against Villarreal having won the first match 3-1. However a really tough Semi-Final tie will await and they also have a Copa del Rey Final to come at the end of the campaign so they can’t simply throw all their eggs in one basket like the other teams.
Marcelino may find he has to prioritise one competition over the other and that won’t be an easy call to make with two possible routes into the Champions League available.