Monday, February 21, 2005

In weekend soccer action, FC Barcelona romped all over Mallorca at home, 2-0, goals by Etoo and Deco. Real Madrid lost 0-2 at home to Athletic Bilbao, giving Barcelona a seven-point lead with fourteen games left to play. Barça has 57 points and Real Madrid is their only challenger with 50. Betis and Sevilla are tied for third place, way back with 41 points. (You get three points for a win and one for a draw.)

The season is over as far as first and second places go; Barça has about an 80% chance of finishing first, I'd guess, with Madrid the only possible second place team. The Big Two get the two automatic bids to next year's European Champions' League. The competition now is for spots three through six. If you finish third or fourth, you get a bid to the playoff round of the Champions' League, and if you finish fifth or sixth, you get a bid to the UEFA Cup, the second most prestigious of the Europe-wide club competitions.

So there are four spots open for Europe next year and seven teams in the hunt. They are Betis and Sevilla with 41 points each, Villarreal with 40, last year's champion Valencia with 38, Espanyol with 38 also, Athletic Bilbao with 35, and Atlético Madrid with 33. None of the other 11 teams have positive goal-averages. Deportivo de la Coruña, in recent years a top Spanish club, is not having a good year and will finish in the middle of the final standings. Villarreal and Betis are currently hot and I would expect them, if they can keep it up, to take the two remaining Champions' League spots. Espanyol and Valencia are both in a slump and are the two teams most likely to fall out of the top group in the league table. Sevilla appears to be playing over its head, since they have the worst goal average among the top nine, and I'd expect to see them drop from their current fourth place as well.

At the bottom of the table, the three teams that come in last drop down to Second Division next year. Numancia with 17 points and Mallorca with 21 are almost sure to be demoted, and the last demotion spot will probably go to either Albacete with 23, Racing Santander with 24, Levante and Getafe with 27, or Málaga with 28.

In the second division the first three teams, of course, move up to First Division next year. There are eight teams in the hunt for those three places; the Second Division race is going to be much more exciting than in First, in which we already know who's going to win. Cádiz leads Second with 47, followed by Celta de Vigo with 46, Elche and Eibar 45, Alavés Vitoria and Valladolid 42, Recreativo de Huelva 40, and Xerez 39.

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