La Liga’s battle for Europe

By 11pm Saturday evening all La Liga’s club will know their destiny. The battle for the top has long been won but there is still plenty left to play for, as apart from the top three, the rest of the European places have yet to be settled.

There is still one Champions League spot up for grabs and three Europa League places all up in the air. La Liga get two spots for the Europa League, which are for the fifth and sixth-placed teams but because Atletico Madrid won the Copa del Rey, seventh place has now been awarded a Europa spot. However, because of some off-the-field issues, there is a possibility that as low down as ninth may be enough for a team to nick a place in the competition for next season, meaning that everyone down to Levante in 11th still has a chance of European football, and that means that this weekend could be very interesting.

Barca face Malaga with the title long secured but don’t expect them to be taking this tie lightly. They are determined to get 100 points and so won’t be doing Manuel Pellegrini any favours. Malaga are guaranteed sixth even if Real Betis pull level in Week 38, thanks to a superior head-to-head, and that gets them Europa League football. However, they are currently awaiting the verdict of an appeal to Court of Arbitration over UEFA’s season-long ban from Europe for financial irregularity. A decision is due on June 4 and should they prove unsuccessful then their European spot will pass down to eighth place.

The race for fourth is where most of the attention is turned to this weekend. Valencia have had a torrid season but may still take the final Champions League place. All they need to do is win or match Real Sociedad’s result, as Los Che are two points ahead of La Real. Both sides have tough away games, with Ernesto Valverde’s men facing Sevilla, who have an outside shot of qualifying for the Europa League, whilst La Real are away to Deportivo de La Coruna, who are fighting for survival. Valencia have a cushion but should they draw and Philippe Montanier’s men win, then the final place goes to the men from San Sebastian who have the better head to head record. The consolation prize for the loser is the Europa League.

The aforementioned Betis need to win or at least draw and seal seventh and a definite place in Europe, because behind them are Rayo Vallecano and the Vallecas side beat Los Beticos twice this season. Rayo will at least take eighth, which looks likely to take Malaga’s spot in the Europa League, but there is an ironic twist. Rayo face a similar situation to the Costa del Sol side, with UEFA refusing to give them a licence to compete in Europe on financial ground. The club are appealing so as they can rub shoulders with Europe’s top clubs for the first time since 2001, but should they be denied the right to play, then ninth gets their place.

That’s where things get interesting. There are three sides with a shot at taking this final hypothetical place. The big question is, do their players really want to play on Thursday nights? Sevilla are currently in ninth and enjoyed a good spell in the competition when it was known as the UEFA Cup. Getafe are in 10th and also had a good run a few years back and then there is Levante, who enjoyed a run to the Last 16 this season in their debut campaign abroad. Of all three, Getafe appear to have the easiest tie as they face Granada away and they have nothing to play for. As mentioned, Sevilla have Valencia, but at home, and Levante have Real Betis, also at home.

Whilst most eyes may be tempted to turn towards the Santiago Bernabeu to see Jose Mourinho stand in the Real Madrid dug out one last time, the real story is the battle for Europe and the fight for survival. On Saturday there will be plenty of tears of joy and lots of people drowning their sorrows in what promises to be a real cliff-hanger.