Is La Liga’s Race For Fourth Place As Watered Down As It Seems?

Tyler Everett May 9, 2019 370 Reads

Just two games remain in La Liga. With the finish line 180 short minutes away, the race for fourth place and a spot in next year’s Champions League has a clear front-runner: Getafe.

Yes, Getafe.

No, not Valencia, Sevilla or any of Spain’s other far more well-known clubs. Instead, the little-known Madrid side is on the verge of its first trip to Europe’s top competition. With a three-point lead with two games to play – Getafe has 58 points, while Valencia and Sevilla are tied with 55 – Getafe is in the driver’s seat. However, they still have some work to do.

This weekend’s game against Barcelona will be much tougher than expected after the Catalans’ meltdown Tuesday at Anfield. Before that result, FiveThirtyEight gave Getafe a better-than-70% chance to finish fourth, which has since dropped to 60%, compared to 35% for Valencia and 5% for Sevilla. The analytics site currently gives Getafe a 15% chance to beat Barça and a 51% chance to knock off Villarreal in the season finale.

All predicted win percentages are according to FiveThirtyEight.

Valencia is favored in its last two games (71% chance to beat Alavés, 42% chance to defeat Valladolid). Sevilla is the underdog this weekend against Atlético Madrid (25% chance to win) but is favored to finish with a win over Athletic Bilbao (52%).

How did Getafe get here?

Getafe’s current advantage is no thanks to any sort of well-timed hot streak. The team’s record in its 11 games since March is just 5-4-2, which is far from dominant. Give them credit, however, for their consistency: the 19 points they’ve captured out of a possible 33 in that span (about 58%), is right in line with their play all season (58 points out of a possible 108 through 36 games). “Slightly above average” – which would also apply to the team’s goal differential of plus-15 – appears to be enough in this race, though.

Valencia (seven wins and 22 points) has only been a touch better since March, while Sevilla’s record over the same time is just 6-5 (18 points). FWIW, Getafe was the team leading this race the first time we broke it down here at HPS. If this seems like an underwhelming trio of candidates for an automatic berth in the UCL, it’s because it is – although Valencia being a Europa League semifinalist does help the optics of the Spanish league.

How does La Liga stack up with other leagues with four ’19-20 UCL spots?

In the Premier League, fourth-place — and UEFA Champions League finalists— Spurs already have 70 points through 37 matches, with one more remaining. This is despite a late-season swoon domestically. The Bundesliga’s race for fourth place features teams with similar point totals to Getafe’s. With two games to play, fourth-place Eintracht Frankfurt has 54 points, but that’s through just 32 games. The other league with four automatic spots in next year’s UCL, Serie A, will likely be represented by Juventus, Napoli, Inter Milan and Atalanta. The latter of that group has 62 points and a goal differential of plus-28 through 35 games.

It’s hard to defend Ligue 1 when PSG, which flames out of the UCL every year, is 16 points clear. But it’s worth mentioning that the French league’s second, third and fourth place teams have all been solid domestically, with over 60 points. That’s probably due to how poor the rest of the league is, but it’s one more factor that makes the possibility of La Liga’s fourth automatic qualifier finishing with just over 60 points in 38 games a bad look.

Coming soon: a closer look at La Liga’s fourth UCL qualifier

This article was initially conceived as an introduction to Getafe’s style and key players, but we’ll save that for if and when they lock up a spot. A Getafe loss to Barcelona would open the door to this race featuring a three-way tie going into the final matchday of the La Liga season next weekend. In the event that someone other than Getafe takes fourth in Spain, that team will get plenty of coverage here at High Press Soccer.

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