Tracking Europe: La Liga, Matchday 11

Something pretty catastrophic would have to happen for Barcelona and Real Madrid to fail to qualify for the UCL, but what about the other two spots? The competition for them is always heated, and this year, it doesn’t look like one of them will automatically go to Valencia.

So, throughout the season, I’m going to be tracking the five most likely contenders for those UCL spots, and recapping how their prospects look. Click through for matchday 11.

Note: This is the third post in a series. The first post detailing the teams I think are the most likely contenders can be found here.

Atlético Madrid

Result: Win (Atlético Madrid 2-0 Getafe)
Change in position: None (2)

After their loss to Valencia in the league last weekend and their loss midweek to Academica in Europa, Atléti are back in their winning ways. It was a comfortable victory over their neighbors overall, though toward the end Getafe looked like they might manage to pull one back.

Getafe are not an especially good team, despite beating Real Madrid earlier in the season, but like most teams in La Liga, they have real quality and can rise to the occasion. These are the wins that Atlético need to keep grinding out – stumbles in these sorts of games last season is why they’re in Europa rather than the Champions League right now.

The next few rounds will be quite telling. If they can get by by Sevilla and get a result against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, it’ll be a good sign for the league.

They remain three points behind Barcelona and five ahead of Real Madrid.

Valencia CF

Result: Draw (Valladolid 1-1 Valencia)
Change in position: None (9)

Well, I did say that this game worried me as a fan, and it wasn’t for nothing. All three promoted sides have real quality, but Valladolid have been the strongest thus far, and Valencia struggle away from the Mestalla this season. They could have used the points, since Atlético are now 13 points ahead of them, even with the result last weekend.

Still, there are some positives to take away from this. Valencia still weren’t at their sharpest, but they had much better control of the game than they have in general this year, especially in the first half, and, crucially, they picked up their first league away result since the opening round, where they drew with Madrid at the Bernabeu. Additionally, despite having more possession, Valladolid were only able to score off a (correctly awarded) penalty, and Valencia held them at that despite being down to ten men.

It’s slow improvement, but improvement nonetheless. They’ve won five of their last seven games and lost just one, and their last four wins have included a 2+ goal margin of victory. It’s also worth noting that they got an important win in the Champions League midweek.

They current sit four points off Champions League qualification.

Sevilla

Result: Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Sevilla
Change in position: 7 to 10

Valencia may be improving, but Sevilla just seem to be getting weaker. This is not the team that beat Real Madrid. I did say that I could see Athletic pulling off a win last time, but Sevilla simply have to be better than this.

They had more chances than Athletic and a lot more shots on target, but to matter those need to materialize into something. Yes, Iraizoz is a good keeper, and he had several crucial saves that would have seen Sevilla at least equalize, but there are a lot of good keepers in La Liga, and Sevilla need to find a way to get past them – and if they’re going to have so much trouble doing so, they need to stop conceding.

They’re in poor form in the league recently, and they’re going to need to start improving soon to prevent going another season without getting into so much as Europa.

Like Valencia, Sevilla sit four points off Champions League qualification.

Málaga

Result: Málaga 1-2 Real Sociedad
Change in position: None (5)

The alarm bells are starting to ring.

Málaga hung onto their spot for this round, but without a win next time, they will likely slip further down the table. Given their trouble with depth, their commitment to this season’s Champions League, and the quality of their opposition for the two remaining Champions League spots for next season, it’s difficult to see them springing back up (though it’s always possible).

Málaga weren’t substantially worse than Sociedad over the 90 minutes, but it doesn’t matter – this was a game they needed to win, and it was also a game they failed to get a result in, despite being at home. They’re now winless in their last three games, and they haven’t won in the league in three rounds. They need to start to turn it around, but unlike with Valencia, it’s clear where Málaga’s problem lies – depth.

They currently sit a point off CL qualification.

Levante

Result: Loss (Levante 1-2 Real Madrid)
Change in position: None (6)

Levante have also experience a bit of a dip in form recently, but you can’t help feeling like for them, it’s a bit less of a problem. Going out of the Copa del Rey wouldn’t be the end of the world, considering their Europa campaign,and draws with Sevilla and Twente don’t really do much to hurt their chances in the league and Europa respectively.

This weekend, Real Madrid came to visit. The conditions were absolutely horrible – it had been raining in Valencia for hours when the game kicked off, and the pitch was waterlogged. The ball would barely move, and when the players ran, you could see sheets of water coming out from under their feet. The players began to resort to long balls, when they weren’t falling down.

Oh, and Cristiano Ronaldo got elbowed in the eye in the second minute, and had to be taken off and patched up. It was a nasty injury, but he did manage to score to put Madrid ahead by one before the second half, when he was taken off and presumably given better treatment than a small bandage.

Then Levante equalized, though the joy was short-lived when Real Madrid were granted a penalty for a foul on Coentrao that happened outside the box. (Yeah. I know. In the ref’s defense, it was close.)

But then Munúa saved Alonso’s effort. It seemed like destiny.

Until the Real Madrid youth product Morata came on and scored in the 84′ to put Madrid ahead again, and Levante were unable to score a second before the whistle. After all their efforts, it just a little unjust, but that’s football.

Levante currently sit two points off UCL qualification.

Round Up

Atlético continue to impress, and Valencia’s momentum seems to be gaining at a time when several other teams are starting to fall away. Right now, it feels like the fourth spot is likely to come down to them or their cross-town rivals, Levante, but there are still a lot of games left to play in the season.

Looking Ahead

Luckily for our UCL contenders, next round doesn’t offer most of them significant challenges.

Granada v. Atlético Madrid

Well, Granada did beat Betis on Friday, but before that they had four straight losses (though in their defense, they really did deserve something out of the game with Athletic). Their home form has been less than impressive, and you have to feel like Atlético should be able to win this. They have to – they’ve got some rough rounds coming up.

Valencia v. Espanyol

Knowing Valencia, this will be where they stumble after their first decent run of games all season.

Hopefully not, though. Espanyol are absolutely awful this season, and have earned just 9 points all season. They’ve also been absolutely terrible away. This is a very winnable fixture, and Valencia will need to win it.

Sevilla v. Betis

This is probably the trickiest fixture for a UCL contender next round. Derbies are always tough, and this one is against a good team. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Sevilla drop points here.

Osasuna v. Málaga

Everything I said about Espanyol is also true of Osasuna, except that they beat Espanyol and have 8 points rather than 9. There’s no midweek fixture, but some of Málaga’s players may be called on for international duty. This should be the sort of game that Málaga win, even with their difficulties, but if they’re really starting to plummet, they could end up dropping points even here.

Deportivo La Coruña v. Levante

This is also a bit tricky. Depor are a good side, despite currently sitting in the relegation zone, and especially at home, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them claim at least a point from this. At the same time, Levante are stubborn, and could easily get something out of it, too.

Here ends the round 11 recap. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time. If you’d like to read round 10, you can find it here.

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