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Spanish Inquisition: Eleven Teams With Eleven Matches For Survival

The battle at the top of La Primera might be the one stealing the spotlight at the moment but, with eleven games to go in the season, the fight for survival is just as, if not more, intriguing. Not only are up to eleven sides involved in the raging war that is developing week-by-week, but some of them are well-established teams, who, faced with relegation, are going to be in dire straights. The likes of Espanyol, who have gone from UEFA Cup finalists in 2007 to rock bottom in the league, or even Getafe, who were at the quarter-final stage of Europe’s second tournament just last season, but now sit two points from the drop, would be devastated were they to go down.

The fact is though, that all sides from 10th place down to 20th look as though they could be relegated and are still very much looking down, rather than up. For the record, the eleven teams involved are Racing Santander, Sporting Gijon, Athletic Bilbao, Almeria, Recreativo Huelva, Real Betis, Real Mallorca, Getafe, Osasuna, Numancia and Espanyol, who are six points from safety at the time of writing. Above that cluster of teams is Valladolid who, with a thirteen point cushion, appear to be safe, but may not be counting their chickens just yet.

Tough Times

Perhaps the most significant element about the battle, aside from the points, is who each team has left to play this season, and if they still have to play their return leg of ‘Everest’. The four matches in a row against Sevilla, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Villarreal are undoubtedly the toughest in the calendar and a few of the sides at the bottom still have to face them again. Recreativo and Getafe will both embark on the treacherous journey in the next few weeks whilst Mallorca and Osasuna play their games against the big teams on the final days of the season, which could be better for worse.

Significantly, neither Espanyol nor Numancia have to play the top four again this year which means that they should be able to pick up some points and perhaps drag themselves up the table. Whether or not they will is a different story but the fact is that relegation would surely hit bottom side Espanyol harder than most around them.

Not only do the Catalans possess a squad of talented players who may abandon ship should the prospect of Segunda come calling, but they have a brand new stadium to move into next year. Leaving the Montjuic was supposed to be a dawn of a new era but at this rate it could be one for all the wrong reasons. With the club failing to attract the kind of support to fill their current stadium, the chances are that the Estadi RCDE will not be full to the rafters either, especially when they are playing against the likes of Xerez and Celta Vigo, rather than Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The fact that even some of their rival Barcelona fans do not wish relegation upon them shows just how devastating it would be, but at the moment they are prime contenders to go down, along with Osasuna and Numancia. It is hard to imagine that either of those two sides would be too greatly missed in Primera next season were they to go down, but just above them sit a very interesting case in Real Betis.

Costly Decisions

Paco Chapparo had, at one stage, driven this team up towards mid-table but after a poor start to 2009 they now find themselves three points above the drop, and with a squad boasting as much as talent as many of those in the top ten. The likes of Achille Emana, Fabian Monzon, Sergio Garcia, Mehmet Aurelio and most recently, Ricardo Oliveira, are all quality players and, perhaps more significantly, were all expensively signed with the hope they would propel this side to the top half of the table. They have quite clearly failed to do that though and the harsh reality is that, as much as many of them say they love the club, they will surely not wish to play their football in Segunda next year, and could well leave Manuel Ruiz de Lopera out of pocket in the summer.

Above Betis, teams such as Athletic Bilbao, Racing Santander and Almeria should be safe, but if they manage to lose a couple more games, will find themselves heavily involved in the scrap. Mallorca are the form side down at the bottom right now, having gone six matches undefeated, but spirits are not so high at Getafe. Coach Victor Munoz has rarely had the full support of the fans this season and with the team now winless since late January, he is under more pressure than ever to get results. Perhaps frustratingly for the supporters, it now seems too late in the day to dispose of the coach and they will have to make do with what they have until the bitter end.

What that end might be, no one knows yet, but worryingly for Getafe they have nearly the worst recent form of all the sides involved in the battle. That is not to say that they will go down for, as this season and many in the past have shown, La Primera is anything but predictable. What does look almost certain though is that Segunda will be having at least two new fresh faces next season, whilst Sporting Gijon and Malaga, who were promoted this season, will retain their place in the top flight. With eleven games to go, the battle at the top of Primera might be all but over, but the eleven-team scrap at the bottom is far from finished…

La Primera Table – Bottom Half

10 Racing Santander – 33 points
11 Sporting Gijon – 33
12 Athletic Bilbao - 31
13 Almeria - 31
14 Recreativo Huelva -30
15 Real Betis -29
16 Real Mallorca - 29
17 Getafe - 28
18 Osasuna -26
19 Numancia - 23
20 Espanyol - 22

James Walker-Roberts,