La Liga is well poised to resume action behind closed doors from the eleventh of June; with matches scheduled almost every day, the thirst of the fans for Spanish football will be quenched soon. Straying away from the usual template of the big three teams automatically qualifying for Champions League Football, the season makes its comeback with a gripping race – two of the four Champions League spots are still up for grabs with five teams competing for them.
Today, we scrutinize the five teams under the microscope and assess them based on their odds of sealing one of the two available spots for Champions League football next season.
Los Palanganas are currently in third place and look like favourites to seal one of the Champions League spots. The squad harbours a good mix of youth and experience in all positions on the pitch. Moreover, with the former Spain manager Julen Lopetegui at the helm, they appear to be a well-oiled unit.
After 27 game weeks and 47 points on the board, there has been a balance between the home and away forms. They have picked up 23 out of the possible 39 points at home and 24 out of the possible 42 points in their away matches. The style of play unleashed by the manager helps bring the best out of his players, both in defense and attack. Sevilla have scored a total of 39 goals, with an average of 1.44 goals per match. Also, 24 out of the 39 goals have come from open play, reflecting the quality on the field. The defence has kept a total of 10 clean sheets, which is better than most teams in and around them.
The star of this flourishing attack is the 25-year old winger from Argentina – Lucas Ocampos. Having had a direct hand in 12 goals, scoring ten and assisting 2, the right-winger has burst onto the scene following his summer transfer from the French outlet, Marseille. Sevilla acted with diligence in the winter transfer window by bringing in a young, yet La Liga experienced centre-forward, Youssef En-Nesyri from Leganes. The arrival of Suso, on loan from AC Milan, further bolstered the threat going forward. With veterans like Ever Banega, Luuk de Jong and club captain Jesus Navas chipping in with important contributions, Sevilla have reaped the results of having a perfect blend of youth and experience.
In the games to come, Los Palanganas predominantly take on teams who are placed 8th or below. However, the away match against Real Sociedad on game week 37 will potentially be a Champions League qualification 6-pointer that can seal their participation.
After a phenomenal 2016/17 season in which they finished in 6th place and sealed a Europa League spot, Real Sociedad failed to strengthen their grip, which saw them fall to 12th place in the 2017/18 season. The climb from then on has been steady with a 9th place finish in the 2018/19 season and now, they sit handsomely in 4th place with 46 points after 27 game weeks. Their form has been impeccable – they have won 4 of their last five league matches barring a respectable 1-0 loss to Barcelona.
La Real favour their home matches more – picking up 26 points out of the available 39 matches while managing to bag just 20 points out of the possible 42 points with a goal difference of -3 in their away clashes. The manager, Imanol Alguacil, who is in his second stint with the club, has put together a formidable unit who are tough to beat on their day. With the third-best attack in the league after Real Madrid and Barcelona, the goal threat is ever-present. Willian Jose, Mikel Oyarzabal and Alexander Isak have scored 24 goals among them, which is just more than half of their total goals scored (46 goals).
The 2019/20 season has been a breakout season for the wonderkid, Martin Ødegaard, who is on loan from Real Madrid. The defensive stability provided by Mikel Merino and Igor Zubeldia has facilitated Ødegaard to exhibit his trickery and industry in the attacking midfielder role. The Real Madrid loanee has an impressive dribble success rate of 62%, in addition to having played a direct role in 9 goals – scoring four and assisting 5.
A likely Achilles heel in La Real’s drive to secure a Champions League spot might be the fixtures that they have ahead of them. With games against Real Madrid, Getafe, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid on the horizon, the experience, guidance and leadership of seasoned veterans like Nacho Monreal and Asier Illarramendi could make the difference between securing or not securing Champions League football for the next season.
Since their promotion to La Liga in the 2017/18 season, the strides taken by Getafe CF as a club has given its fans and community immense pride and joy. The team from Getafe, a city in the south of the Community of Madrid, sits in 5th place in its third season in the top tier of Spanish Football.
Although the Azulones match Real Sociedad in terms of points on the board, they have managed to score just 37 goals compared to La Real’s 46 – making them the second-worst attacking unit out of the current top 8 teams. The Dunkirk spirit of their defense conceding a mere 0.93 goals per match while keeping 12 clean sheets in the process makes a case for their current position in the table. Getafe have a better away form than Real Sociedad, picking up 21 points out of the available 39 with a goal difference of +4. They have secured 25 points out of the possible 42 at home, which is a decent return. The experienced strike partnership between Angel Rodriguez (10 goals) and Jaime Mata (8 goals) has been the primary goal-scoring source.
For them to one-up their 5th placed finish of last season and seal a Champions League spot, the midfield must step up their game. They have a young and relatively inexperienced midfield which has raw talents like Marc Cucurella, on loan from Barcelona and Kenedy, the Chelsea loanee. It’s going to be difficult for them to rise to the challenge, but what better time to stand up and make a difference? In addition to this challenge, the fixtures to be played do not look favourable, with 6 out of the remaining 11 games to be played away from home. The matches against fellow competitors – Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid at home and an away game against Real Madrid are the major hurdles that stand between Getafe and Champions League qualification.
However, if the Europa League is set to continue sometime later this season, Pepe Bordalas and his men have a renewed lifeline for a shot at the Champions League dream. With Antonio Conte and his men standing before them in the current knockout stage, taking the league route looks like the smarter choice.
The Goliath amongst the competing Davids, one of the giants of Spanish football – Atletico Madrid find themselves loitering in 6th place with just 45 points on the table! Los Rojiblancos find themselves treading in territories where they do not belong and are 10 points away from their direct rivals, Real Madrid.
The current position in the table is primarily attributed to their awful away form, where they have picked up a trifling 16 points out of the available 39 with a goal difference of -1. Their home form is the second-best in comparison to the teams fighting for the remaining two Champions League spots – securing 29 points out of the available 42. Despite the big-money signing of Joao Felix in addition to the potent attacking threat of Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata, Atletico Madrid find themselves only to be the 12th best-attacking unit in the nation. Even with pace, prowess and trickery on the wings, Thomas Lemar and Yannick Carrasco have not troubled the stats-keepers at all, with both of them yet to bag a goal themselves.
Diego Simeone’s defence has lived up to its name and fame, they have conceded a paltry 0.78 goals per game while keeping 11 clean sheets in the process. Having arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world, together with a resolute and steadfast defence, both the fans and manager, rightfully demand more from their midfielders and attackers going up the pitch. Given their away record and a cut-throat battle for the remaining two Champions League places, the match against Barcelona away from home in Gameweek 33 may come as a blessing for the competitors if Los Rojiblancos don’t manage to come away with a victory.
Although the victory against Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League knockout stages called for brief celebrations, a club like Atletico Madrid, given its size and stature, is expected to fight for the trophy and qualify automatically on a consistent basis, requiring no favours from the competitors.
Back-to-back 4th place finishes in the last two years may put Valencia, currently in 7th place, on pole position for repeating this commendable feat this season as well. But, they may be in for a surprise.
Valencia have the worst away record amongst the competitors – picking up only 12 points out of the available 39. Their home form is, however, very good – having registered 30 points out of the available 42 – the best record amongst the teams competing for the Champions League places. Los Murcielagos hold the displeasing statistic of being the worst defensive unit out of the top 8 teams – conceding an average of 1.44 goals per match and keeping just six clean sheets out of the 27 games played. On the other hand, the attacking unit has struggled to maintain its rhythm consistently. 29-year old Spanish striker Rodrigo has failed to put on his goal-scoring boots with just two goals against his name all season; however, he has chipped in with seven assists. Maxi Gomez (9 goals) and Daniel Parejo (8 goals) are the top scorers of a team that is struggling to find its feet this season.
With just two games to be played against the teams placed above them in the table – Real Madrid and Sevilla – Valencia CF arguably have the easiest set of fixtures remaining. If Albert Celades and his men can find a formula to fix the leakage in the defence, which is now potentially strengthened with the arrival of Alessandro Florenzi on loan from Roma in the winter transfer window, Valencia could well be within touching distance of Champions League places. Despite the struggles, the players have the weapon of experience in their arsenal, which when wielded right, could make the difference.
A prolonged break in play, lack of fans in the stadiums and an absence of intimidating tifos may render past records and home advantage useless. As the Bundesliga has shown us, it may take a game or two for the teams to warm up and find their rhythm before the Champions League qualification race is truly back on. At EADF, we think that experience might edge talent and potential in these extraordinary times of the beautiful game, making Atletico Madrid and Sevilla as favourites to bag the remaining two Champions League qualification spots.
We are all set for an exciting end to the season with just 5 points separating these five teams as they compete to earn a chance to witness the magical European nights!
Written by Varun Kumar | Feature image by BENJAMIN CREMEL/AFP via Getty Images
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