La Liga Half-Seasons

Last year when all the Barcelona fans were despairing about the league being over in January, I went back and looked up some stats regarding half-season performances the year before. I said that Madrid had an edge but that the league was by no means over. I was right – at one point, it was very close, and I think that if Valencia had won that game at the Bernabeu rather than drawn it things might have turned out differently. (It would have put the league back in Barcelona’s control, which I think would have changed the clasico and the Betis game. But I digress.)

So, with Madrid falling far behind this season, I decided to do last season and the 09-10 season as well, to see if there were any more ridiculous stats.

Here are last season’s placements by half-season (and with the full season for comparison). Essentially, this is where teams would have theoretically placed if only half the season had been played. I do know that home/away records can different, but form is the point right now.

Points are in parentheses. Green indicates Champions League, blue Europa league (5-7 in the half-seasons, for simplicity’s sake), and red relegation.


Placement First Half Second Half Full
1 Real Madrid (49) Real Madrid (51) Real Madrid (100)
2 Barcelona (44) Barcelona (47) Barcelona (91)
3 Valencia (34) Málaga (32) Valencia (61)
4 Levante (31) Real Zaragoza (32) Málaga (58)
5 Espanyol (28) Mallorca (30) Atlético Madrid (56)
6 Osasuna (27) Atlético Madrid (30) Levante (55)
7 Athletic Bilbao (26) Valencia (27) Osasuna (54)
8 Atlético Madrid (26) Osasuna (27) Mallorca (52)
9 Sevilla (25) Real Sociedad (26) Sevilla (50)
10 Málaga (25) Villarreal (25) Athletic Bilbao (49)
11 Getafe (24) Sevilla (25) Getafe (47)
12 Real Betis (23) Levante (24) Real Sociedad (47)
13 Mallorca (22) Real Betis (24) Real Betis (47)
14 Rayo Vallecano (22) Granada (23) Espanyol (46)
15 Real Sociedad (21) Athletic Bilbao (23) Rayo Vallecano (43)
16 Racing Santander (20) Getafe (23) Real Zaragoza (43)
17 Granada (19) Rayo Vallecano (21) Granada (42)
18 Sporting Gijón (18) Sporting Gijón (19) Villarreal (41)
19 Villarreal (16) Espanyol (18) Sporting Gijón (37)
20 Real Zaragoza (11) Racing Santander (7) Racing Santander (27)

Areas of Interest:

1) The middle of the table is really, really tight. We already know that, of course, but in the second half of last season, 4 points separated 7th and 16th. It’s rarely quite that close, not between Europe and not-quite relegation.

Of course, that also had something to do with teams as a whole picking it up in the second half of the season. 27 points would have earned Osasuna a spot in Europa in the first half of the season, but they’d have missed out on it in the second half, just as they did as the end of the season. The only places that went down in point value were 3rd and 20th, just 10th stayed the same.

2) Real Zaragoza were dead last in the first half of last season, but came roaring back to save themselves from certain relegation by placing fourth in the second half of the season. That road to survival included beating Valencia, Atlético Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, and Levante, as well as a spirited performance against Barcelona that looked like it was threatening to be an upset before Sergio Busquets was substituted on.

In March, this was the state of the club. That game, however, was the turning point, though no one knew it at the time. They lost to Sociedad the following week, but then earned a draw with Osasuna and went on to win 8 of their last 11 games. I think I recall hearing that this was a relegation comeback record. I would believe it.

There was talk of conspiracy, of course, but then, there always is. There has been no proof offered up, many of the teams Zaragoza beat were poorer in the second half of the season than the first, and the Barcelona game alone showed what they were capable of. This was just a ridiculous comeback – and there’s precedent for it, too. Zaragoza have never been quite this ridiculous, but they’ve tended to perform much better (we’re talking differences in the double digits) in the second half of the season. I guess it’s kind of like students who don’t start studying until the night before the test.

3) Villarreal were relegated. It’s a shame, too – they really improved in the second half of the season, bettering their first half by 9 points. It’s not quite the 21 that Zaragoza managed, but it was more improvement than anyone but Zaragoza managed. However, Villarreal did not manage to stay up, and nobody took the idea of their truly being a potential team in the relegation race seriously enough to notice that they were faltering until it was too late.

4) Diego Simeone made a huge difference to Atlético Madrid’s fortunes.

It doesn’t show much here because last year, he was appointed with three games left in the first half of the season. Atléti got 7 points from a possible 9. Pre-Simeone, they were earning an average of 1.19 points a game. With Simeone, that number shot up to 1.68 – if they’d managed that all season, they’d have come in third.

It’s looking like that might happen this season, anyway.

5) Espanyol fell apart – relatively speaking, anyway. A difference of 8 points isn’t always disastrous – Valencia dropped by 7 points and still finished third. However, when you finish the first half with at least 6 points on everyone but the big two and your crosstown rivals too poor to afford any depth, you’ve got some wiggle room. If Valencia had managed 5 fewer points, they still would have made the Champions League. If Espanyol hadn’t, They would have had to be saved by goal differential. Six points still would have seen Valencia in Europa. Six points would have sent Espanyol down.

6) Racing Santander really did fall apart, and we’re not just speaking relatively. 7 points in 19 games is pretty terrible – even Zaragoza did better than that. Unfortunately, their troubles do not look to be over – they’re struggling to stay above water right now, as are Hércules (who came close to winning promotion back last season) and Sporting Gijón.

2009-2011 to come when I have some free time… what is that, again?


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