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Wednesday March 7 2018
Relegation battlers staring at the abyss

Barcelona are free and clear at the top of La Liga, but the picture at the bottom is much murkier, with the strugglers playing managerial musical chairs...

At the top end of La Liga, it seems that Barcelona are fully in control of their destiny, marching towards the title with only Atletico Madrid remaining in touching distance, while Real Madrid have endured a dismal domestic campaign that sees them jostling for third or fourth position with Valencia.

There’s a significant gap between the top four and the chasing pack of teams pushing to finish amongst the Europa League positions, but the fight for fifth and sixth place couldn’t be any fiercer. Sevilla and Villarreal are frequent adventurers in European competition, but Eibar and Girona aren’t giving up their dreams of stepping into the continental limelight for the first time, which would be a remarkable achievement given the rise of both clubs from the lower leagues in recent years.

While teams such as Real Betis, Getafe and Celta Vigo could still make a late push for Europe, the habitually tight battle for survival in La Liga is painting a somewhat different picture this season. Few points separate most of the teams in the bottom half of the table, which includes the Basque trio of Athletic Bilbao, Alaves, and Real Sociedad, all of whom have achieved much less than the potential they possess, joined in a tightly condensed pack which also features Espanyol and Leganes.

All of those teams should comfortably avoid becoming embroiled in the typically frantic fight for survival, although it’s a different story for the bottom four. Propping up the table after what can only be described as a disastrous campaign, Malaga are La Liga betting favourites for relegation at 1/25 odds, suggesting that it’s a foregone conclusion they’ll be playing in the Spanish second tier next season.

After sacking Michel in mid-January, Malaga turned to Jose Gonzalez with hopes he could bring a change of fortunes, just like he’d done with Granada in 2016 with a positive final run culminating in a spectacular 4-1 win away at Sevilla, which guaranteed survival on the penultimate weekend of the campaign. However, a frustrating return of 2 draws and 5 consecutive defeats since taking the helm at La Rosaleda, suggests that history won’t be repeated this time for Gonzalez.

There have also been managerial musical chairs amongst the other relegation scrappers. Pepe Mel was unable to inspire Deportivo La Coruna and neither was his replacement, Cristobal Parralo, which led the Galician club to take a huge gamble at the start of February with their third manager of the campaign, appointing iconic former Dutch international Clarence Seedorf. Meanwhile, Paco Jemez has been lured back to La Liga with Las Palmas, as their third Coach of the season. Both clubs remain entrenched in the bottom three.

The only team in the bottom four yet to press the panic button is Levante. Juan Muniz guided the club back to the top flight last season and despite struggling in La Liga, thus far, the board has patiently continued to back their boss. However, his position is by no means certain and according to COPE radio, one more defeat could see Levante replace their 49-year-old Coach. Just like their relegation rivals, the Valencian club may already be preparing to pin their hopes on an alternative trainer.

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