It's another weird and wacky weekend in La Liga, leaving the title race hanging in the balance. Fortunately everyone's played the same number of matches, which makes analysis a bit easier.
Barca (1 - 0 loss to Zaragoza) showed once again just how vulnerable we are without Eto'o in attack. Hopefully he'll be back soon, and thankfully our next game is at home. The good thing is that our fate is still in our own hands, but I'm really worried about that trip to Atletico, who we're traditionally bad against. We can't slip up from now on.
Zaragoza did their own hopes of Champions League football good by moving into 4th place with this victory on the same points but with superior goal difference over Valencia. I would still bet on Valencia to get into the CL places ahead of them in the long run, but there aren't that many games to go. Both of these teams can be wobbly, so we'll see who blinks first. Still, Zaragoza are now only 6 points off Barca. Incredibly, they're in the title race, which I'm sure not many people anticipated at the beginning of the season. A CL place, maybe, yeah, but the title race? Good for them. (I can't help but like any team with such a talented group of Argentinean players. Not to mention old Barca boys Sergio Garcia and Gerard Pique.) Diego Milito for pichichi this season would be delightful.
Also good for Barca, but bad for their own title hopes, Sevilla drew yet again (0 - 0) against Racing at home. If they won they would have been lone leaders, so this was a really bad result especially since they still have trips to the Bernabeu and the Mestalla coming up. Can't really blame them, though, since they had such a mid-week workout against Spurs. Personally, I would like them to retain the UEFA Cup, but it's a crying shame they weren't in the CL this season instead of Osasuna. You never know, maybe Spain would have a few more representatives left in the CL at this point if that was the case.
Racing are doing their own hopes of European football no harm at all. They're only 3 points off sixth-placed Atletico, which is pretty incredible going for a club so used to being mired in mid-table mediocrity. It's going to be interesting to see if they can sustain that to the end of the season.
Real Madrid won (2 - 0 against Osasuna) and are back in the title race, within 2 points of leaders Barca. They still have some tough matches coming up at home against both Sevilla and Valencia, not to mention a visit to Zaragoza which is never fun for them. One advantage Real do possess is that they have a superior head-to-head result against Barca, unlike Sevilla. It remains to be seen if Capello's team has what it takes to grind out the final stretch. I think they're pretty tough, but just grit isn't going to work with the hard matches they have coming up. Still, they along with Zaragoza have the least distractions of any of the top 4 (and Valencia).
As for Osasuna, there's not much to say. They only need 5 more points to reach the magical survival barrier of 40, which I'm sure they'll manage if only by mugging teams at home. However, bravo for that mid-week European performance. You know what would be great? An all-Spanish UEFA Cup final - very possible at this point.
Valencia lost to Athletic away (1 - 0), which left them in 5th place. Not a good position in their push for the title, although they're still only 6 points off Barca. Remember when they were ahead of Real in the table? Can't really blame them though, after the mid-week adventure against Chelsea. On which I have to say, great work. If anyone can take Chelsea on at their own type of game, it's Valencia. I would really like them to win the CL this year - it's about time more than 2 Spanish clubs did. It would also heal some wounds from their two successive final appearances (and defeats) while under Cuper, which I'm sure still smarts.
Athletic helped their chances of survival a great deal by picking up 3 points, which let them climb out of the relegation zone. They're still not out of trouble - Celta are only 2 points off them, and they're only ahead of Levante by goal difference, but there are some rays of hope. Athletic might struggle to get 40 points, given that there are only 9 games left and some of those are against top teams, but if they keep battling they might just make it. A dramatic end of the season looks very possible with that last game against fellow relegation battlers Levante. I like Athletic and hope they do manage to survive, not least because having some representatives of Basque football in La Liga is nice (given the debate over whether Osasuna counts, I'll leave them out), since Real Sociedad look doomed.
Atletico had an impressive away victory against Villarreal (0 - 1). Well, I say that, but Atletico's away form this season has been better than their home form. They're still looking good to qualify for Europe, but CL may be a step too far. They're only 3 points of Zaragoza (and Valencia), but I'm not sure they're going to be anywhere near consistent enough to pull through in the end. My money's still on Valencia out of them, Zaragoza and Atletico, but it's going to be a frantic last few matchdays.
Villarreal are just depressing this season. I read an article saying that getting rid of Riquelme has revitalized them, but they still have the same problems. The team was built around Roman, and when he was brilliant that worked out just fine. But the rebuilding after him leaving is going to take a while. It looks like they're going for a change of guard at the end of this season, which is probably a good way to go. This season is a total write-off. They'll make 40 points, and then there will be nothing to play for - I don't think they have a shot at a European place.
Recreativo played out an exciting game against Celta which they ultimately won (4 - 2). They're still in the running for an UEFA Cup place (only 2 points off Atletico), which is incredible given that most people didn't even give them a chance for survival this season. Great stuff.
Celta on the other hand are in big trouble. The 2 teams below them probably won't catch them, but they still have to haul somebody down to be safe. They do have an easier fixture list than Athletic and probably Levante, but that doesn't really say much since the really key games will be against other relegation battlers. The way they're going, I'd be worried.
Espanyol beat strugglers Real Sociedad (1 - 0) at home. They've had their usual up and down season, but thankfully for the nerves of their fans they're doing much better than last season's frantic scramble to avoid relegation. They've already got 40 points, and although an UEFA Cup spot looks a bit far off they're going strong in the competition this season. Good win over a good team in Benfica (3 - 2), and although I'm a bit worried about their away form and those 2 away goals they conceded, they've still got a good chance of going through to the semi-finals.
As for La Real, I really don't think they're going to beat the drop this year. They've been struggling for a few seasons now, and it's a shame given how great they were not too many years ago, when they nearly won the league. 21 points with 9 games to go is simply not enough, especially given the fixture list they've got. A shame for Basque football in general, but it looks like there's no way back.
Getafe were beaten away by Mallorca (2 - 0). This result is a bit of a surprise. Getafe are strongest at home, but they're no mugs, and I didn't think Mallorca were capable of getting through their defence. This does seem to happen to them every season, though - when they're on the threshold of the 40 point barrier, those last few points take forever. They'll finish comfortably mid-table, which will be another season's good work from everybody involved given the budget of the club but they've got to be disappointed at letting a shot at an UEFA Cup place slip away.
Mallorca are (probably) safe for another season of mid-table mediocrity with short, intense periods of relegation-related terror. They've done the same thing for several seasons now, by being very very stingy at the back and squeezing out a few goals here and there. So no surprises there.
Deportivo beat bottom of the table Nastic at home (1 - 0). This season is a bit of a write-off for Depor, which is understandable given that they're bedding in so many new youngsters who've come in from other team's youth teams. It's just unfortunate that the club itself is run so badly in a way that actually affects the proper operation of the team. They've nearly gone bankrupt how many times now? They're the only club I can think of in the league who have problems paying players their salary. Sad, really, given their status just a few seasons ago.
Nastic are struggling valiantly against the drop, but they're pretty much doomed. Like I said about La Real, 21 points with 9 games to go isn't enough. Their run-in isn't that bad, but I'm afraid their season-ending game at the Camp Nou may be meaningless by the time they get there.
Betis drew (1 - 1) away to Levante, which is a result that doesn't really help either of them. Betis look alright for this season - they might even make 40 points before the last day, if they're really lucky. Still, this has not been a good season for a club with some pretty good players who beat Chelsea just last season in the CL. They should be doing much better.
Levante are still in trouble. They're not too far off the last 3 and even if they do ultimately survive it will probably be by the skin of their teeth. I don't think they were quite ready for the trials of the Primera, to be honest, although they have done well with their meager resources.