Sad story of La Liga’s inconsistent performers.
In my earlier article, Will the real 4th place team please stand up? we had a look at how incredibly tight was the fight for last place and how it was majorly due to inability of the teams to capitalize on other team's failure.
By the time I'd written the previous article, the season had undergone 23 out of 38 games and the table stood like this.
In that post, I had touched upon the forms of Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Levante, Rayo Vallecano, Malaga and Osasuna. Valencia were enjoying a cozy cushion of 7 points above the 4th placed team.
It has been 10 more games since the last article that means everybody had 30 points up for grabs and I was certain that the races for the final Champions League playoff place (4th in the League) and Europa League places (5th and 6th) would have been more of less settled.
How wrong was I? Nothing like that has happened and almost all the teams which we'd discussed above have shown a tremendous inconsistent form and have failed miserably to achieve their goals. Their performances over the season can't be termed anything but "Les Misérables" - the poor ones, the wretched ones.
Currently after 33 rounds, the table stands like:
Now there are 2 battles have emerged. With 5 more rounds to go and maximum 15 points up for grabs, incredible 9 teams are separated by mere 6 points.
Although all the teams remain same except Getafe and Seville coming into contention, their form over last 10 games has been precarious to be considered as European football contenders.
Lets look at the progression of League positions of the above teams. Although teams the whole zig-zag shows the inability to capitalize on the upward trend and cementing a higher spot.
Los(t) Che: Highest League Position: 1, Lowest League Position: 7
Valencia's 7 point cushion over the 4th placed Espanyol after 23 games has been evaporated. Their lead at the 3rd place has been reduced to just one point.
Have a look at Valencia's form throughout the season.
After 22nd match, the wheels on Valencia wagon have come off. Midweek distractions (Champions League, Europa League and Copa del Rey) can be given as an excuse for many of these draws and defeats.
Valencia drew 1:1 with Barcelona in the 1st Leg of Copa del Rey Semi Final and a week later were defeated in the 2nd Leg 2:0. The game vs Atletico Madrid was sandwiched in Copa del Rey SFs, this game was drawn 0:0 in which Valencia fired just 1 shot on target.
Similar pattern was seen when 2 legs of Valencia's Europa League round of 32 against Stoke were followed by an away trip to Nou Camp where they were hammered 5:1 and a 1:2 home defeat against Sevilla.
Valencia have raked up 1.75 pts per game at home and in 1.41 pts per game away from home. In their remaining 5 fixtures Valencia will play 3 games at home vs Real Betis, Osasuna and Villarreal whose away form has been 1, 0.87 and 0.56 respectively.
But Valencia will play Europa League semi final legs on 20th and 27th against Bilbao followed by a blockbuster showdown against Malaga.
Valencia will have to prioritize between,
- Europa League title,
- 3rd spot in the League which will ensure direct qualification for Champions League group stage.
- 4th spot in the League which will take them to the Champions League playoffs.
My predictions for Valencia's remaining fixtures are, Betis (H): D, Malaga (A): L, Osasuna (H): W, Villarreal (H): W, Real Sociedad (A): W.
Malaga: Highest League Position: 3 , Lowest League Position: 10 (not considering 1st day defeat)
In my earlier post Project Malaga, we've seen How Malaga were yet to arrive despite big spending and their form earlier in the season was nothing near to 'Champions League playoff contenders'
But finally it seem like slowly but surely the 'Project' has finally taken a destined direction. 5 impressive wins in 6 games and drawing 1:1 against Real Madrid at Bernabeu, had seen them leapfrogging Levante, Espanyol, Bilbao.
Malaga had displaced Valencia from their 3rd place after week 31, but In their last defeat to Villarreal, Malaga conceded 2 goals in last 7 minutes to go down 2:1 and a draw against 10 men Sociedad. They have a very talented squad in the League, but 2 losses and a draw in their last 4 games again cast some doubts about the temperament, desire and ability to lift the game of the players.
Malaga's Home form is 3rd best in the League behind Barca and Real Madrid with 2.1 points per game, but their away form has been equally disastrous (0.93 per game). Their 2 out of 4 away wins have come recently.
3 out of 5 of their remaining 5 matches are away from home against Osasuna, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid whose home form is 1.9, 2.8 and 1.9. These fixtures are 34th, 36th and 37th in the league calendar.
My predictions for Malaga's remaining games are, Osasuna (A): W, Valencia (H): W, Barcelona (A): L, Atletico Madrid (A): L, Gijon (H): W
Levante: Highest League Position: 1, Lowest League Position: 7 (not considering 2 initial draws)
Best romantic story of La Liga. Club haunted by serious money problems, unpaid wages and a poor league form last season have managed to turn things around on the pitch. Their 7 consecutive league wins saw them at the summit which they held for 2 weeks.
Then followed 2 bad streaks for them. First was 3 consecutive losses (10,11,12) and another 8 match win less streak without wins which had 3 draws and 5 losses (16-23). They bounced back with 4 wins in 5 matches and went level on points with Malaga and exchanging 4th spot, but they failed to capitalized on this form and lost their last two games. Other teams were unable to take advantage of this slip up and allowed Levante to retain their 5th spot, Malaga's 1 point off 2 games meant the gap between them remained only 3 points.
Levante's away form has been decent with 1.12 points per game and at home they're formidable proposition with 1.76 points per game. Levante will play 3 of their remaining 5 matches away from home against Seville ( 1.68 points / game at home), relegation threatened Zaragoza (1.18 pts / game at home) and Real Mallorca (1.43 pts / game at home).
Of all the teams fighting for 4 spot, Levante will fight hard as some Champions League money will do much good to their financial cause.
My predictions for Levante's remaining games are, Sevilla (A): L, Granada (H): W, Zaragoza (A): D, Mallorca (A): D, Bilbao (H): W.
Osasuna: Highest League Position: 5, Lowest League Position: 15
They are a surprise package of the league and certainly most unlikely team to compete for a European spot.
Only 6 teams out of 20 have scored less goals than Osasuna, and only 3 teams out of 20 have let in more goals than Osasuna, but most importantly only 3 teams out of 20 have lost less matches than Osasuna.
Stats stand heavily against Osasuna in the final flight. 37 goals scored and wooping 53 goals conceded in 33 matches is certainly not an exciting stat also their longest winning streak lasted just 2 games. Osasuna's league position has been helped by failure of other teams to pounce on their losses.
Osasuna's home form is incredible. They have picked up 1.88 points per game at home, winning 9 games out of 17 including a famously gunning down mighty Barcelona (3:2). But away from home, their form is precarious. They have only 2 wins, 8 draws to their credit away form home, and 6 losses. Out of those 6 losses, 8-0 against Barcelona, 7-1 against Real Madrid and recently 6-0 against Rayo Vallecano have been real thumpings.
Osasuna's run down is pretty difficult. They'll host Malaga and Sociedad and will travel to Villarreal, Valencia and Racing Santander.
My predictions on Osasuna's remaining games are, Malaga (H): L, Villarreal (A): L, Valencia (A): L, Sociedad (H): D, Santander (A): W
Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Espanyol and Getafe all are tied on 45 points, 6 points adrift of current 4th placed Malaga.
Have a look at their away form throughout the season. It really a poor statistic by some of the giants of Spanish football. Sevilla has been UEFA Cup winner in the past and Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao along with Valencia make 3 out of 4 Spanish teams in Europa League's semifinalists.
Although Athletic Bilbao have been sensational in Europa League knocking out Manchester United and Schalke, in the League they haven't been able to exert their force. Their haven't been able to win more than 2 matches on the go, and this feat too they could achieve only once. On the other hand they've managed to lose 3 games in a row twice in the season.
Bilbao initially went 6 away games unbeaten, but in their last 6 away games they have managed only 2 draws and losing 4.
Bilbao will travel to relegation bound Santander, Zaragoza and 4th spot contender Levante. Their home games are against unstoppable Real Madrid and resurgent Getafe.
Another Europa League semi finalists Atletico Madrid share the similar tale and yet more disappointing away form.
Just 4 wins, a draw and 5 losses in their last 10 matches meant they could win secure only 13 points out of possible 30. Out of these 10 matches 5 were at home and Atletico managed 3 wins and 2 losses, which were against Barcelona and Real Madrid. Their performance in both of these matches were excellent.
Out of remaining 5 matches, Atletico will play 3 at home against Espanyol, Sociedad and Malaga.
I've been impressed by Getafe so far who had a disastrous start to the league campaign. After 10th game, they found themselves at the bottom of the league with only 7 points to show. They managed 4 wins in next 6 games. Getafe could manage only 19 points after first 16 games and managed a respectable 12th place.
Well, if a 12th place team can have only 19 points after 16 games, the inconsistency of the entire league barring top two is brutally exposed.
However Getafe have managed 26 points from next 17 games with 7 wins, 5 draws and 5 losses. They just thumped another contender Sevilla 5-1 at home last night. Unbelievably 26 points in 17 games is a highest tally among the above teams involved.
Getafe's run seem to be the easiest and their recent form is decent too. They'll play Granada (A), Mallorca (H), Santander (H), Athletic Bilbao (A) and Zaragoza (A).
Relatively weekly points progression of the teams will show the fact that how closely these teams are knit and how a couple of good result or a couple of bad results can change the standings completely.
I don't want to start a debate on which league is best in Europe or in the World, but I couldn't resist the temptation of checking out the League standings across the Europe after 33 games and checking out where a team closer to 52 points does stand.
In no other leagues does team with 1.58 points / game stands a chance for a direct qualification in group stage of the Champions League, rather those teams are struggling for their chances to play in Europe.
In the following table shows 3rd place teams in Major European Leagues and their performance in terms of points per game.
In Major European Leagues, La Liga has a team with lowest points/game at 3rd place in the League.
Well, Spain maybe the European Champions and World Champions and they might have a best shot in conquering European Championships again.
Valencia, Athletic Bilbao maybe playing beautiful football, Malaga may have a best assembled petroleum squad, Levante might be defying all the odds stacked against their existence, but unless you perform consistently in terms of results, and rely on mediocrity of other teams to secure better positions, you won't stand a chance in Europe's élite club competitions.