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Friday May 2 2014
The battle at the bottom

With the battle to avoid relegation set to go the distance, Richard Thomas casts an eye over La Liga’s contenders for the drop.

Monday’s 4-1 win for Celta Vigo over Real Valladolid removed any lingering worries the Galician side may have had of being sucked into a relegation battle. Two goals by Nolito, one from Charles and a Stefan Mitrovic own goal propelled the Celticos into the top half of the La Liga table and, with three games of the season remaining, they can now start planning for another season in the top flight.

There is no such luxury for their visitors though, who following defeat remain marooned in the relegation zone and face an almost certain battle to the wire if they are to avoid the drop to the Segunda Division.

Real Betis’ (22 points) long-inevitable relegation was finally confirmed last weekend after a turbulent season on and off the pitch. The Verdiblancos are now 13 points from safety with only nine to play for, but while their fate is sealed it remains anyone’s guess as to who will join them.

Currently second from bottom are Valladolid (32 points) themselves. Juan Martinez’s side are three points from safety, though their destiny technically remains in their own hands due to the fact they have a game in hand on their rivals.

It must be stressed however that it is against title-chasing Real Madrid, so unless Pucela can repeat the heroics they showed when famously beating Barcelona in March the match may turn out to be more of a burden than a blessing. The trip to already-relegated Betis and a crucial-looking final day home clash with fellow strugglers Granada are far more likely to bear fruit for the Castile and Leon outfit.

Almeria (33 points) occupy the final relegation place for the moment but boosted their hopes of avoiding the drop with an impressive 2-1 win at Espanyol on Sunday. It brought an end to a four-match losing streak for last season’s Segunda Division play-off winners and Coach Francisco Rodriguez will now hope his side can use the momentum gained. This weekend’s home clash with the Verdiblancos is surely must-win, while a trip to Granada and a home tie with high-flying Athletic Bilbao round up their season.

Just about on the right side of the line are Getafe and Osasuna (35 points each). The Madrid outfit claimed a vital win over Malaga last weekend to move out of the drop zone to 17th, while Los Rojillos were unsurprisingly soundly beaten on their trip to Santiago Bernabeu.

It is just as well Cosmin Contra’s side did taste victory last time out, for they will be up against it when they face Barcelona and Sevilla in their next two fixtures.

Javi Gracia’s charges meanwhile will look to get their battle for survival back on track at home to Celta, while the prospect of a final day home meeting with Betis means they will be confident of securing safety as long as their destiny is still in their own hands by then.

Elche (36 points)and Granada (37 points) are the two other teams who could realistically be sucked into trouble, though one more victory should be enough for both to preserve their respective Primera Division statuses. That may prove a difficult task for the Franjiverdes however, who first travel to Malaga before finishing their season at home to Barca and away to Sevilla.

Lucas Alcaraz’s team, while badly out of form, have a more favourable set of fixtures and matches against rivals for the drop Almeria and Valladolid provide them with ample opportunity to remove themselves from the relegation equation.

While this season’s La Liga has produced the closest and most exciting title race for years, there is now every chance it will be over by the time the final match day kicks off. This is highly unlikely to be the case at the bottom, with thrills and spills guaranteed as six teams battle for four places in next year’s top flight. As the season enters its final and decisive stage, it is very much squeaky-bum time in Spain.

As it stands…

La Liga Pts P W D L F A
Granada 37 35 11 4 20 30 53
Elche 36 35 8 12 15 28 47
Osasuna 35 35 9 8 18 29 58
Getafe 35 35 9 8 18 30 51
Almeria 33 35 9 6 20 38 69
Valladolid 32 34 6 14 14 33 54
Betis 22 35 5 7 23 29 70

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