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Friday May 13 2016
La Liga facing Basque takeover?

There must be something in the water in the Basque Country, writes Euan McTear, as we could have five Basque teams in La Liga next season.

There are only approximately three million people in the greater Basque region of Spain, which accounts for just six percent of the Iberian country’s whole population. That makes it all the more incredible that Basque football clubs could account for 25% of La Liga next season. With Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Eibar all long safe from relegation, there will definitely be at least three Basque teams in the top flight come August, while there is a good chance two more could join them, given that both Alaves and Osasuna find themselves in great grid positions ahead of the final sprint in the Segunda division promotion race.

Alaves, the team from Vitoria-Gasteiz in the south of the Basque Country, are so close to a return to Spain’s top flight that they can almost smell the away days at Camp Nou and the Bernabeu. It has been 10 years since they were last in Spain’s top tier and promotion would be a fitting way to mark the 15th anniversary of their famous 2001 UEFA Cup run. With the team coached by Jose Bordalas currently in second place, which would earn them automatic promotion, they have a great opportunity to make that step up.

Not only are Alaves already in a good league position ahead of the season’s final five matches, but they have the easiest remaining schedule of the top six teams ahead of the final push. The average points total of Alaves’ remaining opponents is just 46.6, while the equivalents for their main promotion rivals Leganes, Gimnastic, Real Zaragoza, Osasuna and Real Oviedo are 49.0, 58.6, 48.8, 47.2 and 54.2 respectively.

Therefore, Osasuna, which is the other Basque team in the promotion hunt, has the second-easiest final five fixtures of the teams at the top. That fixture list starts with a match this Sunday against the league’s bottom-placed team Bilbao Athletic, the youth team of Athletic Club which has overachieved by even reaching this high a division. Nothing, of course, is certain in football, but it would be a major shock if Osasuna do anything but move three points closer to promotion this weekend.

Osasuna has been a La Liga regular over the years, spending 14 consecutive seasons in the top flight before their 2013-14 relegation. The Pamplona-based side are hitting form at just the right time, having not lost in the last seven matches and conceded just once over that period. They say that defences win titles, but in the case of Osasuna it should win a place in the promotion playoffs.

From there, anything can happen. Osasuna have yet to lose a match this season against any of the other three teams currently in the playoff spots, while they have also claimed the scalps of the top two teams Leganes and Alaves during their league campaign. Enrique Monreal’s team thrives against the big teams, which bodes well for playoff success.

We’ll soon know how many Basque teams do make it to next season’s La Liga, but whether the number is three, four or five, one thing is for certain: there is currently an abundance of footballing talent in the Basque Country.

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