Latest From La Liga: Last-Minute Thrills Unlikely, So Let’s Talk Champions League

Posted By Tyler Everett on July 8, 2020

With less than two weeks until the ’19-20 season of La Liga comes to a close, there’s unfortunately very little still up for grabs.

We’ve been saying that the top-four race was effectively decided since June 24. Our exact words in that headline were “Top-Four Race Is … Over?”.

And last week, we conceded that the title race was all but in the books. So it would be a bit redundant to say much other than, “the top of the table is (still) not interesting.”

For anyone who hasn’t been following, though, first-place Real Madrid (77 points) leads Barcelona (73), Atlético Madrid (63) and Sevilla (60). Considering RM’s form — and the fact they hold the tiebreaker from the head-to-head battles — they’ll be hitting 85 points (or more) and sealing this thing with no trouble. Oddsmakers, in fact, have Los Blancos at -2500 to finish the job, compared to Barcelona at +800. That’s still hard to believe considering Barcelona had a two-point lead (and was -182, compared to RM’s +140) when play resumed in June.

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So You’re Saying There’s a Chance?

As for the Champions League “race,” the TLDR version is that it, too, is pretty much over. The closest team to Sevilla is Villarreal (54), but a six-point deficit is a lot to overcome over four matchdays. For a more precise guess, FiveThirtyEight gives Sevilla a 96% chance to seal a spot in next year’s Champions League.

Sunday’s game against Barcelona was a great opportunity for Villarreal to prove themselves. More importantly, it was a high-profile chance to stay on Sevilla’s heels.

Instead, it was a reminder that Villarreal is not yet in the same class as Spain’s top teams. And oh yeah, Barcelona can still look really good when they’re on. The highlights below show why it’s so frustrating when the Catalans go long stretches without any decent opportunities. They also showcase Villarreal’s defensive issues (44 goals in 34 games is not nearly good enough to make the Champions League).

Stay Tuned?

Still, they’d have a decent shot at a top-four finish if Sevilla’s remaining opponents were tougher than ninth-place Athletic Bilbao, 18th-place Mallorca, seventh-place Real Sociedad and eighth-place Valencia. But when we remember that since returning from the break, Sevilla has won just three of seven, it seems a lot more likely that they leave the door open for Villarreal, doesn’t it? (I can admit that’s probably just wishful thinking).

Two last things on whether it’s Sevilla or Villarreal in the Champions League:

  • The tiebreaker does belong to the underdogs, as they drew Sevilla on June 22 and got three points with a 2-1 win on December 15.
  • Villarreal’s last four foes are Getafe, Real Sociedad, Real Madrid and Eibar, so they have their work cut out for them. Do we think they could get something like nine points (12 seems out of the question) while Sevilla captures just three over their last four matches? Sadly, not really …

About this year’s Champions League

With two teams among oddsmakers’ top five favorites to win the Champions League, why not look ahead to La Liga’s chances in Lisbon in August.

To win the whole thing, Bayern Munich (+275) is understandably the favorite, followed by [editor’s note: FFP violating] Man City (+320), PSG (+600), Barcelona (+650) and Atleti (+1,200), while RM is a major long shot at +3,000. Juve (+1,400), Atalanta (+1,500), RB Leipzig (+2,000), Napoli (+6,000), Lyon (+8,000), and Chelsea (+35,000) are also massive underdogs.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atleti all are either through to the quarters or have a chance to get there. RM lost Leg 1 of the round of 16 2-1 to Man City, but should be able to make Leg 2 interesting. Barcelona got an away goal in a 1-1 draw in Leg 1 vs. Napoli, which makes them a favorite to go through, barely.

How Far Can Atleti, Real Madrid and Barcelona Go?

When Atlético stunned Liverpool, they were in terrible form domestically. They’ve been strong since the break, though, capturing 18 of 24 possible points. They’ve even shown some life offensively! (16 goals in eight games is huge for this club, especially this year) and could be an interesting UCL darkhorse. Even if you ignore the recent run, “if they could beat Liverpool, they could beat anyone” is an understandable angle.

If Real were in better shape going into Leg 2, they’d likely be among the favorites. Unfortunately, against a desperate City team in an advantageous position, they’re probably not reaching the quarters.

Given the opponent and result of Leg 1, Barcelona can certainly reach the quarters at Napoli’s expense. While it’d be hard to bet against Lionel Messi in a one-leg elimination, this is a flawed team right now. For now, I’ll say that while I don’t see Barcelona beating Bayern Munich, or reaching the finals, it shouldn’t shock anyone if they find a way to reach the semis with a quarterfinal win over a team like Atalanta or RB Leipzig.

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