We have reached what could pretty easily be called the final stretch of the season. With 10 matches to go, we are in 7th place (because we own the head-t0-head tiebreak over Atleti), good enough for Europa, but with the pesky requirement of July qualifiers. So I thought I’d take a minute to compare the run-out for Sevilla and their neighbors on the table. What follows is a look at each of the teams from 5th to 8th, focusing on recent form over the last five matches, the slate for the final ten matches, number of matches against other top 8 teams, and a “key” matchup. Away matches are in red and home in black. This is going to get long, so I’m tucking it under the cut:
Here’s the table as it stands today:
Form: L W L L W
Last 10: Malaga, Racing, Hercules, Atletico, Gijon, Athletic, Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza, Sevilla
vs. top 8: 5
Key matchup: LL 38 vs. Sevilla. If these guys are lucky enough to still be in the hunt for Europe in their last match at all, my guess is it’ll be a struggle for 7th place that will also require other results. If Sevilla is the team in 7th place, this game gets nasty, at their house, with Europe on the line. I guess you could argue that with half their games against other top teams, they’ll have lots of more important matches just to get to this game with anything on the line. But if they do, well, this becomes the most important game of them all.
Form: L L L W D
Last 10: Villarreal, Almeria, Real Madrid, Osasuna, Sociedad, Espanyol, Levante, Deportivo, Malaga, Racing
vs. top 8: 3
Key Matchup: LL37 vs. Malaga. With one of the easiest final stretches of the top 8, Athletic could reasonably hope for Europe even if they drop their two or three biggest matches. That could, though, lead them to a big 37th match day meeting with Malaga, a team that has much better quality than their bottom-of-the-table position would indicate. Even now they are only 1 game away from safety, and I expect they’ll at least have a hope of avoiding relegation at this point, and will be playing for their lives. Good teams finally finding their footing when they hit bottom can be extremely dangerous, and this looks like a dangerous tripping point for Los Leones.
Form: W D W L D
Last 10: Valencia, Zaragoza, Mallorca, Getafe, Villarreal, Almeria, Real Madrid, Osasuna, Sociedad, Espanyol
vs. top 8: 4
Key Matchup: LL35 vs. Real Madrid. We don’t have an easy run out, but at least we get to host Villarreal and Real Madrid. That Real Madrid game, at home, 4 weeks from the end of the season when every game becomes REALLY TIGHT, will be enormous. The good news: if RM is still in CL at that point, the return leg of the semifinal will be that midweek before, on May 3 or 4 (we’d play May 8 or 9). Plus, here’s the stretch they’ll be coming off before that: Apr 17 Barca, Apr 20 Barca (CdR), Apr 24 at Valencia, Apr 26-7 CL Semi 1, May 1 Zaragoza, May 3-4 CL Semi 2. I’m not saying root for RM in the CL, and I’m not saying I want to hear Mou bitch about the scheduling of our game if he’s coming off a mid-week CL game (HE WILL), but I do think we benefitted from catching Barca after Arsenal. And if Barca wins El Clasico (effectively killing La Liga), we could be seeing a completely exhausted RM side with nothing left to play for in Spain, and either a CL final or another cupless off-season looming in the distance. We could well be bathing in sweet, sweet, merengue tears.
Form: W D D W D
Last 10: Real Madrid, Osasuna, Sociedad, Espanyol, Levante, Deportivo, Malaga, Racing, Hercules, Mallorca
vs. top 8: 2
Key Matchup: LL38 at Mallorca. They have the easiest run-out, and it’s sort of hard to identify a particularly key game. That game at Espanyol has the potential to be tricky as I think it’ll probably happen right around the time those two teams’ fortunes intersect on the table (Atleti on a general upward trend, Espanyol on a general downward trend). But I’m going with that last game. I really think Mallorca has a decent chance to be knocking on 7th place by then, and obviously they are familiar with last-game Europe drama. I’m actually not sure if they’ll be eligible to play in Europa next year, but I’m assuming they will be and that they’ll be in a position to qualify on the last day of the league. Plus, Atleti is famous for their propensity to fall apart at key moments. So…yeah.
In general, I guess it’s obvious as you read this that I am expecting Espanyol to fall from their current place to 8th or lower. They have a really tough slate, they’ve been dropping too many points from the softest part of the schedule in the last month or two, and…well, I just don’t believe in them. So I’m actually very confident we’ll be top 7 on that alone. But 6th should be our minimal target, and to be honest I think we can do it. We’re only 2 points out now, and as we showed against Barcelona we have the quality to get points out of every match on the slate. We shouldn’t expect any favors from Athletic, but even though they have a relatively light schedule, they’ve been dropping points at weird times, and I’d wager they’ve got a couple more pinchazos in them.
What do you all think? What do you see as the key matchups? Where will we end up? Which of these 4 teams do you see missing the boat for Europe? Which team not on this list has the best shot to grab a spot in Europe?