La Liga's chase for fourth still worthy of attention
Like most La Liga seasons, this 2018/19 one ran out of genuine competitive juice rather quickly, resulting in thirsty customers forced to search elsewhere around the league for Spanish suspense and value.
FC Barcelona are presently enjoying what will - after this round of games is finished - very likely be an unassailable 9-point lead over the competition with just five league games to go.
Outside of what would constitute one of the greatest meltdowns in European football history, La Blaugrana will win their 26th La Liga title, and 10th in the last 15 seasons.
While Barcelona’s seemingly never-ending rampage across Europe should be marveled at (they’re once again in the Champions League Semi-Finals, and favourite to claim a 6th crown) what shouldn’t be ignored is what’s become an amazingly intriguing race to secure La Liga’s fourth spot, and thus graduation into Europe’s premier club competition.
With a handful of matches left, just two points separate all of Getafe, Valencia and Sevilla in the race for the coveted fourth spot, and the riches and prestige which come from playing Champions League football.
For Getafe, UEFA Champions League qualification would constitute one of the biggest continental surprises of the season.
This is a club only founded in 1983, and whose first ever season of top-flight Spanish football occurred in 2004.
In their brief history in La Liga, the Madrid based club had never finished higher than 6th, and in all but three of their 13 premier division campaigns, finished in the bottom half of the league.
The fact Getafe are even here while ranking dead last in La Liga for time in possession at 43.3% and last in pass accuracy at 63.8% thoroughly defies all conventional logic, while at the same time providing a heap of hope to teams throughout Europe who have a less refined approach to their play.
Sevilla chasing a spot in the Champions League has been par for the course in La Liga this century, with the Andalucían giants having been a fixture in the top half of the table for nearly two decades now.
What is remarkable, however, about Sevilla’s present campaign and potential UCL qualification, is the fact they're still in with a fight considering their chances were nearly derailed by a mid-season slump where they won just two of 13 league matches.
That terrible streak cost manager Pablo Machin his job and while Joaquin Caparros has come in to steady the ship, and kept the Champions League dream alive, Sunday’s 3-0 loss away to Getafe worked as a reminder of just how arduous grabbing that 4th spot will be.
Of the trio of teams fighting for the fourth spot, Valencia makes for the most interesting case study.
The Bats have not for a single moment occupied a position in La Liga’s top four this season yet their campaign has continued to get stronger by the week.
Valencia has lost just once in their last 15 La Liga matches and are not only coming home with the proverbial wind in their sails, but their performances are finally matching what their underlying expected goal metrics have suggested they were capable of delivering all season.
A win away to Atletico Madrid would go a very long way to securing Valencia a place in the UEFA Champions League for the sixth time in the last nine seasons.
While for some, the predictably of top-flight European football can feel like Groundhog Day, there’s often a plethora of interesting battles within each league across Europe that are worthy of keeping one’s attention.
This La Liga fight for fourth is a perfect example of that.