First division - day 38 (preview)
One of the closest fought leagues in recent years comes to a close this evening, with many of the main issues still to be decided. A lot could depend on goal difference, which in Spain depends at first on the direct meetings between the clubs involved, and only afterwards on the general goal difference (one proviso, the away goal rule does not apply in these cases). This is how things pan out as we stand:
League title. Real Madrid and Barcelona are level on points, with Sevilla two points behind, so any of the three could be crowned champions. Real Madrid have a better head-to-head record than Barcelona though (2-0 in the Bernabeu and 3-3 in the Nou Camp), so if they are level on points at the top, Madrid will be champions. If Sevilla win at Villarreal they too have a chance, and their average is better than Madrid (on general difference) but worse than Barça, so they need Rijkaard's team to lose at Nàstic and Capello's to lose or draw at home to Mallorca to take the title. If there is a three way tie, Madrid will be first, Sevilla second and Barça third. Remember that the top two qualify automatically for the Champions League whereas the third has to play a qualifying round, so second place is also important.
UEFA Cup and Intertoto spots. Only three teams involved here, Zaragoza, Villarreal and Atlético, so one misses out on the UEFA and will have to play the Intertoto if they want European football next season. Atlético are two points behind the other two and have a difficult trip to Osasuna, but with Villarreal at Sevilla and Zaragoza also away at Recreativo they have a chance. Villarreal have losing records against both on a head-to-head basis (against Atlético direct and Zaragoza on general difference), and Zaragoza win out against Atlético.
Relegation. With the usual suspects all safe, four of Spain's classic teams, Athletic Bilbao, Betis, Celta and Real Sociedad, are fighting it out to avoid the last two relegation spots. The first two are on 37 points, Celta on 36 and Real Sociedad on 34. Real Sociedad only save themselves in six out of 81 possible combinations, but basically they have to win at Valencia and hope that Celta lose or draw at home to Getafe and Betis lose at Racing. Athletic, who are at home to Levante, are the only team to have a winning record over Real but they have a losing record against both Betis and Celta, so only a victory will fully ensure them of safety. Finally if Betis and Celta are level, the Andalusians will win on general goal difference. In the event of a three way tie, the four possible combinations would be as follows:
All four teams could end up on 37 points of course, and if that happens (God help us) the order would be Betis-Real Sociedad-Celta-Athletic, i.e. Celta and Athletic go down. But don't take our word for it, check out our fixtures page and work it out for yourselves. Or otherwise come here from 17.00 CET onwards and follow our on-line scoreboard. One way or another, by midnight tonight it will be all over! (17.06.07)