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Monday June 2 2014
Real Betis, regrets and relegation

It was a season of twists and turns at the foot of La Liga, Simon Harrison writes, but three teams eventually had to go down...

Real Betis, left marooned at the bottom of the table after the previous season brought European football, were the first club to be sentenced to La Liga relegation. Six points separated relegated Osasuna from 11th-place Malaga, highlighting the competitive nature of the survival dogfight, with all positions in between swapped with regularity.

Merely six wins and the controversial failed gamble of sacking likeable Coach Pepe Mel is a rather simple way of summing up Real Betis’ fortunes. Reasonable goalscoring returns from Ruben Castro and Jorge Molina weren’t enough to lift Los Verdiblancos away from trouble, with the Andalusian club’s fate the only one to be decided before the final round of play.

A look at the goals conceded column of the League table outlines what was Betis’ Achilles heel - a leaky defence unable to prevent 78 goals left their attacking options with too sizeable of a void to bridge. Condemned to follow Betis are Real Valladolid and Osasuna, with both clubs cruelly relegated on the final day.

Two years after being led back into the top flight by Miroslav Djukic, La Pucela paid in full for an unforgivable stoppage time defeat in the penultimate round to La Liga’s rock-bottom side.

Top goalscorer Javi Guerra was powerless to prevent his side’s descent, with solid home form in the second half of the season unable to place foundations strong enough keep the club afloat. Memorable points earned against the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona count for little given the season’s outcome, with Atletico Madrid the solitary club to profit from them.

The same sentiments can be echoed regarding Osasuna, with the Pamplona-based club often impressing in the intimidating atmosphere of El Sadar. Their direct style of football didn’t necessarily match the blueprint of stereotypical Spanish football but nearly enabled Javi Gracia’s men to climb out of the relegation zone by the skin of their teeth before he left for Malaga.

While the relegation zone was populated by short-term coaching options or doomed men, both Rayo Vallecano and Celta Vigo ended the League season with their Coaches in demand.

Rayo may have conceded the most goals of out any club, taking drubbings at the hands of Barcelona, Atletico and Malaga, but their mentality as the little club who could eventually bore fruit.

A dozen goals from Joaquin Larrivey and one fewer from Alberto Bueno aided Los Vallecanos to an unprecedented run of form, with the deployment of exciting offensive options such as Ruben Rochina and Iago Falque adding a variety of interesting strands to Rayo’s bow.

The challenge for Jemez is now whether he can push Rayo forward with another squad of journeymen and loanees, as the likes of Alex Galvez and Anaitz Arbilla have already been snapped up by Espanyol and Werder Bremen respectively.

Celta, on the other hand, have lost the rudder which helped to guide them to La Liga safety. Sounded out by Barcelona upon the mutual dismissal of Tata Martino, former Blaugrana player Luis Enrique’s work in Galicia didn’t go unnoticed.

Granada maintained their La Liga status with a nervy victory over Real Valladolid on the final day, with sporadic form leaving the club often reliant on their rivals’ failings, but whether Granada can keep hold of their young talents is another matter altogether.

Another relegation escapee, Getafe, also boast a positive horizon for the coming League season. Fan favourite and Coach Cosmin Contra did just enough to inspire his charges to a late surge for survival after replacing Luis Garcia, who supervised a 12-game winless run. An extremely forgettable campaign, except for the final month, means that the summer break is rather welcome.

All three promoted sides avoided the drop, though Elche and Almeria had a more nervous wait to confirm their place in the Division. The former, who were promoted as Segunda champions, were forced to rely on important results against their relegation rivals due to their lack of firepower. It’s not difficult to predict what will be on Elche’s shopping list in the coming months.

Almeria, under the stewardship of young Coach Francisco, played some attractive and attacking football which just about saw them over the line. A run of three wins against relegation rivals Espanyol, Real Betis and Granada proved to be enough to give La Liga’s youngest boss another crack at the whip after the summer, with re-affirmed belief in his own ideas and ability.

For the likes of Malaga, Levante and Espanyol, it has been a campaign of relative mediocrity. Usually, the term would have negative connotations, but to have a steady and average campaign is quite an achievement in a convoluted League.

With such thin margins separating clubs from playing in the second division next season or ending the campaign in the top half, with unprecedented resurgences from the likes of Celta and Rayo, it’s hard to envisage what La Liga next has in store.

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