With 10 games remaining in La Liga, the title is Barcelona’s to lose, and that might be an understatement (FanDuel NJ Sportsbook have them priced at -20000, no joke). But while the Catalans are 10 points clear, the race for fourth place – and an automatic spot in next year’s Champions League – remains wide open.
A look at the standings show that the two teams best-positioned for a ticket to Europe’s top competition are fourth-place Getafe, with 46 points, and fifth-place Alavés (44). In sixth and seventh are two teams with much bigger reputations in Sevilla (43) and Valencia (40). At this point, it’s probably also worth mentioning Real Betis (39), but they would need a heck of a finish, and a significant collapse by the clubs they trail.
As far as FiveThirtyEight is concerned, it’s a two-horse race between Getafe, which it says has a 42% chance, and Sevilla (38%). Alavés and Valencia both have a 9% chance, according to the analytics site.
A Case for Alavés…
I won’t pretend to have a percentage in mind for the likelihood they make the UCL, but I don’t understand the lack of love for Alavés, especially since Getafe, Sevilla and Alavés have all won 12 of their first 28 games.
Despite what FiveThirtyEight has to say, I think Alavés remains very much alive, especially considering they’ve recorded three wins and three draws since a 3-0 loss to Real Madrid on Feb. 3. They’ll almost certainly need to win more than half their games the rest of the way, though.
…and for Getafe Too
As for the recent form of the other teams in this race, Getafe – with four wins and two draws in its last six, and no league losses since Jan. 26 – is playing much better than Sevilla over the last six weeks.
Sevilla won its last two matches, but its 2-1-4 combined record for February and March is extremely concerning. It looks that much worse when you realize three of those losses were to teams in danger of being relegated in Celta Vigo, Villarreal and Huesca – by a combined score of 6-1 (!), no less. With that in mind, it’s hard to like Sevilla’s chances, even if they boast a solid goal differential of +11. One reason for optimism – if you can call it that – is the club’s elimination from the Europa League last week, which means it will be able to focus on its domestic matches moving forward.
Who Gets the 4th Spot?
So, between Getafe and Alavés, who’s the smart pick? Both teams are among the league’s best defensively. Getafe is third in goals allowed (24), while Alavés (31) is fifth. The biggest difference at this point is goal differential. Getafe’s is +12, while Alavés’ 0 is the same as 10th-place Real Sociedad’s. Getafe and Alavés will not meet again this season, so it comes down to their schedules.
For Alavés, the outcomes of the next two matches will be telling. If they can knock off both Atlético (March 30th) and Sevilla (April 4th), that will be a great sign they need to be taken seriously. Those are not Alavés’s only tough tests left, though, as they also will face Barcelona (April 24th) and Valencia (May 12th). With four of their last 10 games against teams currently in the top seven, Alavés has a tough road ahead.
Getafe appears to have an easier slate. Their next four are against 14th-place Leganes, 13th-place Espanyol, ninth-place Athletic Bilbao and 16th-place Athletic Bilbao. Overall, Getafe’s last 10 games include three against top-seven opponents: Sevilla, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
FiveThirtyEight unsurprisingly likes Alavés in just four of their final 10, while it favors Getafe in six of theirs.
I’m much more bullish on Alavés than the numbers say I should be, but I still believe the smart money is on Getafe to make the UCL for the first time in club history. The team that finishes fifth punches a ticket to the Europa League, while the sixth-place club will have a chance in Europa League qualifying, and we’ll break down that race as the season winds down.