As we reach the March international break, it’s time to reflect that for La Liga, there are only ten games left. For lower leagues there are more (plus play-offs) but we are clearly reaching the business end of the season.
So I thought this was the perfect time to look at what is left to play for for Madrid’s major clubs and ponder what may happen between now and the end of the season.
Atlético at the crossroads
To describe this as a disappointing season for Atlético is probably an understatement. After starting off so well by winning the UEFA Super Cup against their old rivals in Tallinn back in August what has followed has been frustrating for the fans of los colchoneros.
What could have been their best chance of winning the league since the historic 2014 triumph never really materialised as too many draws away from home left them trailing some distance behind Barça even before their defeats by Betis, Real Madrid and Athletic over the last month and a half.
But it’s the European failure that will rankle, this year more than any other. With the Wanda Metropolitano hosting the final in June, Atlético had high hopes of making it through. Even more so after the manner of their first leg victory over Juventus on 20th February. But their performance in the away leg was as insipid as the home showing had been inspired and when they fell behind there was a sense of grim inevitability about their exit at the hands of a Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick.
So what now? Well, Diego Simeone is going nowhere, having just signed a new contract in February, but he’s going to have to prepare for life without some of his stalwarts. Diego Godín looks set to leave in the summer, with Inter a long-rumoured destination, Felipe Luis and JuanFran are surely coming to the end of their time as starters, while there are doubts about Lucas Hernandez amid speculation of a big money offer from Bayern Munich. The defence that has been the cornerstone of Atlético’s success will have to be totally reconstructed.
There are also questions being asked about the club’s long-term planning. Like why have the likes of Jonny Castro and Diogo Jota been signed, only to be loaned out and then sold on without ever making an appearance for the club? Then there’s the ongoing problems with integrating new attacking players, with last summer’s arrivals like Thomas Lemar, Gelson Martins and Nikola Kalinić being largely underwhelming and looking more like joining the likes of Jackson Martinez, Nico Gaitan and Alessio Cerci in the long list of Atlético transfer flops than taking on the mantle of a new Griezmann.
And as for Atlético’s star man, the rumours linking him to Barça have already commenced. It’s going to be a long few months…
Zidane starts his rebuilding job
Real Madrid’s season was effectively over after a dramatic week at the end of February and the beginning of March. Consecutive home defeats to Barcelona first eliminated from the Copa del Rey and then killed whatever lingering hopes they had of winning La Liga, before Ajax took them apart at the Bernabéu and ended their reign as Champions of Europe after 1,000+ days.
Less than seven days after that match, Santiago Solari was gone and Zinedine Zidane was back. He quit the Bernabéu last summer and subsequent events have shown that he was probably right to get out while the going was good.
Is he taking a massive risk by coming back? Can he recapture the magic without Cristiano Ronaldo? What does this mean for The Golfer Gareth Bale?
Zidane’s first target will be to try and overhaul Atlético in second before the real work of rebuilding the squad starts in the summer. The first signing (Porto defender Eder Militão) has already been secured, though given how quickly this was announced after Zidane’s return, it’s uncertain how much of a day he had in it. Expect months of Marca and AS front covers linking Madrid with moves for Neymar, Mbappe, Hazard and pretty much every big name in world football as they try to restore some of the sheen that has faded from the squad this season.
Getafe going for Europe
Getafe have been the undoubted success story of this La Liga season and have already achieved far more than anyone thought possible.
Last weekend’s draw at Valencia was a huge result in their pursuit of the final Champions League place and while many people connected to the club continue to play down their chances, with ten games to go, they are very much in the driving seat.
They’ve also been able to celebrate top-scorer Jaime Mata’s deserved call-up to the Spain squad, national boss Luis Enrique once again showing his prioritising of players in form over ones with big reputations and few could argue with Mata’s presence in the squad. Maybe the only complaint would be that his strike partner Jorge Molina wasn’t included too!
Speaking of Molina, I was alerted to a great bit of trivia about him on an episode of The Spanish Football Podcast this week.
Absolutely brilliant stat on @tsf_podcast this week. Jorge Molina (Born April 1982) is older than the current incarnation of Getafe (Founded July 1983)
— Andrew Gillan (@andrewgillan) March 19, 2019
Getafe have some difficult matches between now and the end of the season, including fixtures against Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla. Their final game is at home to Villarreal and given the potential importance of that match at both ends of the table, I’ve already pencilled that in as my match for the 18th/19th of May.
Leganés and the battle against complacency
Leganés started the season really poorly and looked like a potential relegation candidate, but with nine games left, they sit in mid-table with an eight point cushion over the bottom three.
So far, so good for los pepineros, but they can’t take anything for granted. La Liga is so competitive this season that it just takes a couple of bad results for a team to plummet down the table.
Lega will also have to deal with the psychological blow of losing their thirteen match unbeaten run at Butarque, which was finally ended by Girona on 16th March. They started that match like a team that already had one eye on their summer holidays and were twice punished for some lazy defending. They were a lot better in the second half but the two-goal gap was too much to bridge. Despite the January addition of Martin Braithwaite, who has made a difference, and the impressive form of Youssef En-Nesyri, they have scored the second fewest goals of any side in La Liga.
There’s no room for complacency.
Rayo Vallecano: Already doomed?
After a superb run of form at the beginning of the year, Rayo looked like they were all set to surge up the table.
But everything turned on a home meeting with Leganés at the start of February. A 2-1 defeat to their ten-man opponents kicked off a run of seven consecutive defeats, the latest of which, away to fellow strugglers Villarreal, eventually cost manager Michel his job.
They have been unlucky in some of those matches, particularly their home defeat by Atlético, but their propensity for shooting themselves in the foot with basic defensive errors looks to have condemned them to their fate.
Of course the manager you want if you’re trying to sort out an error-prone defence is definitely Paco Jemez, famous for his cavalier style in his previous stint at Rayo, who took over again on 20th March.
But he faces a baptism of fire against Europe-chasing Real Betis, with matches against Valencia and Athletic Club also coming up in his first four games. There are some more winnable games against their fellow strugglers coming up later in the season, but they’ll need to pick up some points between now and then to ensure there’s something left to play for in those games.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be entertaining.
Alcorcón: A season of two halves
Alcorcón were one of the great success stories of the first half of the season, but sadly for them there won’t be a fairytale ending to the campaign.
After going top of the league in November, their form suddenly dropped off a cliff (maybe coinciding with me writing nice things about them) and left them facing an end of season battle against mid-table mediocrity.
In the fifteen games they’ve played since my visit to the Estadio Santo Domingo at the end of November, they’ve only won two and drawn four. But the most striking thing is how their defence went from watertight (11 clean sheets from August to November) to sieve-like (two from December to March) almost overnight.
Without the solid base to build from, the playing it out from the back style I witnessed in my two autumn visits is presumably no longer effective. I say presumably because I haven’t seen any of their games since the bad run began except in highlights. Maybe I should head back down there soon and see if I can help inspire a reversal of fortunes!
Rayo Majadahonda: Keeping their heads above water
Arguably the smallest side in the Segunda Division, few gave Rayo Majadahonda much hope of staying in the division prior to the start of the season, but they have acquitted themselves remarkably well and are in with a good chance of extending their stay into next season.
Currently six points separate them from the bottom four (of course the unfortunate situation at Reus means there are only three relegation places in play) and they are part of a fiercely competitive pack in the bottom half.
By a strange quirk of fate, their final match of the season was scheduled to be at home to Reus, but since their expulsion from the league, it will now be awarded as a 1-0 win (as is the case with all Reus’ remaining fixtures) but the points are withheld until the fixture was due to take place. This puts Rayo in a strange situation where their fate could be decided on an afternoon when they aren’t even playing.
Segunda B: All to play for!
I’ve not seen as much Segunda B in Madrid this season as I had hoped to. Blame the constant Sunday 12pm kick offs for that.
I do hope that with the ‘quare stretch in the evenings’ (as they say back home) a few more teams might be tempted to move their kick-offs away from the blistering heat of lunchtime to the cooler and more sociable early evening slot.
There are plenty of Madrid teams in Group 1 and several of them will be right in the mix for promotion. Currently top of the table are blog favourites Fuenlabrada, who have gone close to promotion in recent years but ultimately fell short in the play-offs each time.
San Sebastian de los Reyes from north of the city are also in the mix for a play-off place along with the reserve teams of Real Madrid and Atlético.
Should these teams make the play-offs, the most exciting thing for me would be the potential of them playing my old local team Recreativo Huelva, who are currently enjoying their best season in years (after three years of battling relegation and avoiding bankruptcy while I lived there. Not bitter.)
Down at the bottom, it’s a fight for survival for Union Adarve who currently sit four points from safety while the wonderfully named Artístico Navalcarnero are almost certainly doomed to the Tercera next season.