El Centrocampista

The race for European football’s promised land hots up in Spain

adrian-atletico-madrid

EFE

The race for La Liga’s fourth place is as tight as ever this season with any of the top 10 (some would even the top 13) in with a shout of securing Uefa Champions League qualification. This weekend saw another significant result in the battle to get to European club football’s promised land as Valencia crushed hopefuls Athletic Club 3-0 at San Mames.

Athletic were many people’s favourites, following some magnificent performances in recent months but two consecutive defeats have seen them slip away leaving Malaga, who picked up a great point at the Bernabeu, now firmly in the driving seat. Although they sit fifth behind Levante, Manual Pelligrini’s men have a comfortable run of games coming up and you would expect them to leapfrog the Valencian side, especially with a better head-to-head record.

However nothing is certain this season. Levante picked up a big win over Real Betis on the weekend and La Liga’s surprise package are still clinging on in there. Should they qualify for the Champions League, it would probably be one of the biggest shocks in recent footballing history – especially as they seemed nailed on for relegation before the season began.

Back to Bilbao, and Athletic Club’s charge seems to have faulted. They looked strong but their brilliant performances in the Europa League win over Manchester United coincided with two dreadful results against Osasuna and Valencia.

They are still just four points off fourth however, and like Atletico Madrid, who they face on Wednesday and who sit one point behind them, must feel like they really have a chance. It will be a massive game at the Vicente Calderon and could prove to be season-defining for both teams. Last time they met Athletic cruised to a 3-0 win but this time it seems anything could happen.

Athletic and Atletico, are also both still competing on the European stage and that may prove problematic – it can be difficult to balance Thursday matches with weekend fixtures. Many a side has succumbed in the past to fatigue and seen their league form suffer.

Sitting sixth, Espanyol have also enjoyed two consecutive victories following a mini slump from Mauricio Pochettino’s men. Last weekend’s impressive 5-1 demolition of fellow hopefuls Rayo Vallecano was complimented by a fairly routine 3-1 victory over Racing Santander on Monday night and the Catalan side are still well-placed to make a charge for the remaining Champions League spot.

The final side involved in the race for fourth are many people’s dark horses. Osasuna sit seventh and are very-much in the mix, thanks to their superb form at the Reyna de Navarro this season.

The remaining fixtures seem to favour Atletico, although they do host Real Madrid, Malaga and Athletic. The Basques have the toughest; facing Atletico, Valencia, Real Madrid and Barcelona. It has been tight all season and it could go down to the wire, with that in mind Malaga have the hardest final run in of all facing Barcelona, Atletico and Valencia in their last four games.

I personally think it will be between Malaga and Atletico for the final Champions League spot. For Malaga they will need to pick up points now and with easy games to come they should do that. Atletico need to dispatch Atheltic Club on Wednesday night, that would be a huge psychological blow and give them much needed momentum.

The race for the title is seemingly over, however there is still so much to play for in La Liga.




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