Tracking Europe: La Liga, Matchday 20-22
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 matchdays 20-22.
Note: This is the fifth post in a series.
Change in position: None (2)
Atlético maintained their perfect home record for the season by dispatching fellow European contenders Levante and Real Betis, but they did lose in embarrassing fashion to Athletic Bilbao between the two. Still, at this point they’re looking like they’ve cinched a spot in the CL and have a serious chance to make second. They even have a slim shot at taking the title – who would have guessed that at this time last year?
Change in position: 7 to 6 (Europa League)
This doesn’t look like a great record, but considering who Valencia were playing, it’s really pretty respectable. A bit of a grudge match against Depor was buffeted on either side by the big two – that’s tough for anyone to handle, but they handled it pretty well.
The loss to Real Madrid was deeply embarrassing, especially given the frequency with which Real have been losing this season, but unfortunately for Valencia, RM happened to show up in that game, and coupled with Valencia’s poor tactics… well, they got hammered. It’s poor luck, but it’s the sort of result that will occasionally happen and that you need to brush off and move on.
Crucially, they seem to have done so: they got a draw against RM after that embarrassing league game, and went on to beat Depor in thrilling fashion as well as fighting Barcelona to a draw.
Their resurgence has been going on for a long time now, and I think it’s probably fair to call it genuine.
Valencia sit 2 points off a Champions League spot.
Change in position: 12 to 11
I was considering dropping Sevilla and adding Betis for the second half of the season, but I think I’ll just be adding Betis, because Sevilla’s results under Unai Emery have been very promising. I have a great deal of respect for him as a manager, so I’m not really surprised to see him making a difference.
Their placement hasn’t improved much since the halfway point, but slow and steady could get them there, and while they’ll still need a substantial push to get them there – a win against RM could really help this weekend – if they keep playing like this it’s very plausible that they’ll be able to triumph over Atlético in the second leg of the semi-finals, and a berth in the final is a berth in Europa, since Barcelona and Real Madrid will both obviously be qualifying through the league.
Sevilla currently sit 5 points off Europa qualification and 7 off Champions League qualification.
Change in position: 5 to 4 (Champions Legue)
Not the worst run of results, but far from the best – they really should have been able to see off Celta Vigo and Zaragoza, especially since both draws were home games, and those dropped points have allowed some of the stragglers to catch up. Valencia, Rayo, Sociedad, and Levante are all within a single result of catching up, which doesn’t bode well for Málaga.
Of course, they’re still in fourth, and it may not end up mattering, anyway.
Change in position: 8 to 9
They’ve hit a bit of a rough patch – the loss to Atlético is perfectly understandable, but the loss to Espanyol is less so, and they’ve lost four of their last six. Still, Levante never really look convincing, just stubborn, and they can certainly make a comeback, especially since just 3 points separate 4th place from 9th.
Levante sit one point off Europa and three off the Champions League.
Change in position: 4 to 5 (Europa League)
Betis are having an awful run right now, which hasn’t been helped by the fact that they’ve faced Atlético Madrid three times in the last few weeks. They’re still very much in the mix, though, and were quite unlucky to not get a point against Atlético last weekend.
Betis are currently one point off the Champions League.
Valencia are looking more and more likely to snatch up the fourth CL spot with their continued surge ahead; despite an embarrassing league loss to RM, they’re in very good shape. I personally suspect Málaga (assuming the ban is overturned) and Betis will snatch up Europa, but we’ll see.
Here ends the round 20-22 recap. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.