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La Liga primes itself for the race to football’s European promised land
- Updated: 13 March, 2012
The race for fourth place and the last, lucrative Uefa Champions League qualification place is hotting up in La Liga, with just seven points separating nine teams.
With Barcelona and Real Madrid always destined to be fighting it out for the title, the remaining 18 teams in Spain’s top flight knew that they had two remaining spots to fight for, although it seems Valencia have a firm grip on third place – leaving one remaining place to be filled.
Here, we will try to give an insight into who is best placed to make the Champions League in 2012/13 and who will be experiencing disappointment by missing out on the biggest club tournament in world football.
The moneybags of La Liga currently sit in fourth place despite an indifferent season under former Real Madrid boss Manuel Pellegrini. The Andalusian side spent big in the summer, bringing Nacho Monreal, Joris Mathijsen, Jeremy Toulalan, Isco, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Santi Cazorla, with expectations of European football firmly in their sights. Unfortunately, Malaga have been very inconsistent and have sometimes struggled to hit top gear away from home. Malaga are on 40 points as this stand, two points clear of fifth place.
The early season success story has faded away ever so slightly, but Levante remain in the hunt for European football after a stunning start to the season. Many predicted that Luis Garcia’s departure to Getafe would see Levante stuck around the relegation zone, but new manager Juan Ignacio Martinez has worked wonders with a team of rejects and ageing players. It really would be a fairytale story if Levante could make fourth place, and they are certainly in the running in fifth place.
Flying under the radar this year have been Osasuna, punching well above their weight in sixth place under Jose Luis Mendilibar. They have been a hard working side under Mendilibar and have been devastating from set pieces this season, with midfielder Raul Garcia chipping in with goals. Sunday’s win over rivals Athletic Bilbao was a great boost to their hopes of European football, defying their ‘mid table’ tag.
Many people’s favourite team now, Athletic were simply stunning at Old Trafford on Thursday night. Marcelo Bielsa’s side have recovered from a subdued start to find themselves on the fringes of a top four place. The defeat to Osasuna has set them back somewhat, and the Basque side are now just three points behind Malaga – though if they win the Europa League, they could find themselves in the Champions League anyway.
Atleti’s rise up the table has coincided with the appointment of Diego Simeone. Atletico have stopped leaking goals and are effectively sealing wins, like Sunday’s 2-0 win over Granada at the Vicente Calderon. With the firepower of Falcao, they will always score goals. I think that Atletico could be a dark horse to get into the Top four if Malaga slip up.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side recovered from a thumping in the Bernabeu to hand out a similar battering to Rayo Vallecano on Sunday. They have generally struggled to score goals this year but their academy continues to supply to the club with talented young players who adjust quickly to La Liga. I don’t think Espanyol can make the top four, but Pochettino has done a great job and will be attracting interest from bigger teams at the end of the season.
As things stand, most people believe Malaga, Atletico Madrid and Athletic are the clubs best equipped to push for the remaining Champions League spot, however Osasuna have barely been given a mention all season yet find themselves just two points off the top four. Rayo Vallecano, Real Sociedad and Sevilla are slightly further back and it is doubtful they have the quality to make a final push towards football’s promised land.Follow @icentrocampista