It was a battle that went down to the wire. On the final day, three sides all faced the dreaded possibility of joining Levante in next season’s Segunda. Only one would survive – and for Sporting Gijon, survival means more than most.
The Asturians have been in administration for two entire seasons. The first saw them win promotion back to the flight on the last day. The second saw them avoid relegation on the last day. They have had to rely entirely on youth products, with occasional loan deals, while doubts have persisted that the club might no longer exist at the end of each campaign.
Due to their financial difficulties, Sporting were only allowed to draft in players aged under 23 on loan, with their only permanent signing the Bosnian midfielder Ognjen Vranjes in January. It was two of those loan signings – Antonio Sanabria (Roma) and Alen Halilovic (Barcelona) – who were particularly influential, with the former netting 11 goals, while the Barcelona starlet provided the creative spark.
Their opening-day holding of Real Madrid proved to have massive consequences at both the top and bottom of the table eight months on, but it was Sporting’s form in the New Year which saw them scrap survival. A 5-1 thumping of Real Sociedad was followed up by a win at Valencia in late January, while they won four of their last five at home – including defeats of Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Villarreal.
That form meant that Rayo Vallecano’s final-day win over Levante was not enough to extend their five-year stay in the top flight (the club’s longest ever spell in the division). The side from the suburb of Vallecas have been perennial overachievers in the division, playing attacking possession football and punching above the weight of their miniscule budget.
This was Paco Jemez’s fourth full campaign in charge, and it looks set to be his last. Relegation may not have changed his position much and he won’t have a shortage of suitors should his exit be confirmed. He had guided Rayo to mid-table in each of his previous three campaigns – eighth, 11th and 12th – which, considering the budgetary constraints, were minor miracles.
Somewhat incredibly, Rayo ended up as fifth highest scorers in the League. which points to both their strengths and weaknesses. That victory over Levante came after six consecutive games against teams in the top half, including city neighbours Real and Atletico – both of whom they lost against by the odd goal. The penultimate match of their campaign saw Los Vallecanos limp to an oddly-flat defeat at Real Sociedad, a match which the League has said it would investigate, which may lead to more serious consequences.
City neighbours Getafe also suffered top-tier relegation, albeit for the first time in their history to end their 12-year stay. Despite this run at the top level, Los Azulones struggled to build up a regular support base and, like Rayo, may find it very tough to adjust to life outside the top flight.
They will be minnows even in Segunda, and their problems are stacking up. Forced to sell most of El Geta’s star players over the past 12 months, their owner Angel Torres is desperate to sell and it could be a case that this is the start of a long decline.
A three-month winless streak between January and April proved their ultimate undoing, as did a lack of firepower upfront – averaging less than a goal a game.
For Levante, the writing had been on the wall for months. They mustered only eight wins all season, with none back-to-back and only one on the road. Like city rivals Valencia, this was a campaign to forget. The January loan signing of Giuseppe Rossi failed to spark them into lift – the Italian netted only six times in his 17 outings.
Unlike their fellow relegated clubs, however, the outlook for Levante is not bleak – they have a more stable boardroom structure and have been in La Liga for nine of the last 12 seasons.
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