La Liga: where the top three could stumble

Right now, Barcelona have a sizeable lead (13 and 14 points, respectively) on Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, and with only 27 points left to play for are almost assured of winning the title.

However, all three teams have some tough fixtures ahead of them. Click through to see where they’re most likely to stumble.

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La Liga: Round 23 (projections)

Note: This is being published after the Mallorca/Osasuna game started – sorry. I wrote most of it up last night, but then I needed that little thing called sleep.

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CDR semi-final leg 1: Clasico

(Everybody’s doing it. I feel like I ought to, too. Sorry it’s a bit late – I have a day job, too.)

I went into this game feeling tense. I was sure that Barcelona would lose – and not just lose, but lose horribly. It just seems like the favorites never win the clasico, and Barcelona were the favorites going in.

But as it turned out, the game was nervewracking, intense, and for many fans of both sides, terrifying for the entire 90 minutes. In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing – it means that it was a great game in which no one was really humiliated. However, I’m also not sure how much more of that my heart can take, and I’m sure I’m not the only fan who feels that way.

But onward and upward.

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On Resurgences

One of football’s favorite narratives is the “resurgence.” You can barely go a weekend without hearing about the resurgence of some team or player somewhere in Europe. The better the league, the bigger the hype.

Most of these so-called resurgences don’t actually amount to anything, because people tend to be looking for the wrong things. This post is inspired in particular by all the talk surrounding Real Madrid and Fernando Torres, but I’m not trying to pick on them in particular – they just happen to be the major talking points this season.

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Could Real Madrid fail to make the Champions League?

I’ve been dismissing concerns others have voiced about this out-of-hand all season, because it just seems too absurd to be believable. However, as the season goes on, I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s not a real possibility.

There are a few real reasons to think that the unthinkable could happen.

1) Form.

To put it very bluntly, Real Madrid’s form is not improving. They haven’t strung together more than two consecutive wins in the league since November, and they’ve also started to drop points at home against relegation-threatened teams. There are serious problems in the locker room and the coach is clashing with several major players, so I don’t really see it getting better without any tangible changes. I don’t care what people say about “concentrating” on the Copa del Rey and the Champions League – if they’re not playing well in the league, they can’t put together the momentum necessary to realistically attain either of those things, especially La Décima.

2) Head-to-head.

It’s not inconceivable that Real Madrid could end up tied on points with one (or more) of these teams, and if they do, they could have a serious problem.

Betis and Málaga both beat them in the first half of the season, and Valencia managed a draw. If Valencia win tomorrow, they’ll have a better head-to-head. The same will be true of Betis and/or Málaga if they manage a draw at the Bernabeu, which is well within the realms of possibility.

For the first time in a long time, Real Madrid could end up second-best head-to-head against a team that isn’t Barcelona, and three of the teams for which it’s a real possibility would be very dangerous indeed if Real Madrid continue to drop points like they have been.

3) Caliber of rivals.

Real Madrid are unfortunate in that they’re having trouble in what is shaping up to be an exceptional year for several teams.

Last year, only one team outside the big two broke 60 points, and that was only just (Valencia, 61 points). That’s not looking like it’s going to be true this year. At this rate, it wouldn’t be surprising to see half a dozen teams outside the big two reach about 60, and it would be a bit surprising if only Atlético surpassed 70.

At the halfway point last season, only two teams outside the big two had managed to reach 30 points (Valencia, 34 points & Levante, 31 points). That’s not the case this year. After nineteen games, no fewer than five teams have reached 30 points: Atlético Madrid (44), Real Betis (34), Málaga (31), Valencia (30), and Levante (30). None of these teams shows signs of slowing down, and Valencia are actually speeding up.

That’s significant on two levels: first, it means that many of these teams are breathing down Madrid’s neck in a way that would not have been the case last season, and second, it means that they’re a lot more likely to drop points – they’ve already lost to Betis and Málaga and drawn with Valencia.

Realistically, Real Madrid probably will make the Champions League, but it’s looking like it could be tight, and I’m going to go way out on a limb and predict that they won’t. It seems bizarre and unthinkable, but so does 18 points, and that’s happened. We’ll see how this develops, but it could get really interesting.

Tracking Europe: half-season round-up

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 a half-season round-up.

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

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The Big Two vs. the Big Clubs

So outside Barcelona and Real Madrid, it’s probably fair to say that the four biggest and most successful clubs in Spain are Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, and Valencia.

Athletic, along with Barcelona and Madrid, have spent every season since the league started in 1929 in the first division. Valencia have spent 78, Atlético 76, and Sevilla 69.

Collectively, these four have won the league 24 times of the 28 times neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona won it. They’ve come in runners up 25 of the 38 times neither Madrid nor Barcelona did. They make up 3-6 in the table of total games won through their history in the league, despite Sevilla having spent 9 less seasons in the first division than Espanyol.

Their ranks include the only Spanish teams outside of the big two to ever make it to the UCL final and to win the UEFA Cup/Europa League.

These are hugely, hugely dominant teams. Yes, Madrid and Barcelona tend to overshadow them, but these are four remarkably consistent clubs with real staying power. 

So how have they done against the big two lately?

Well, it’s kind of an interesting story.
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