La Liga Picks: Jornada 38

Clive Rose

Match-round previews for Jornada 38 in Spain.

MALAGA draw with Levante

With both teams having already secured their permanence, I don't expect much of a dog-fight here. Interestingly, both sides have drawn with Atlético within the last two weeks, essentially allowing Barcelona back into the title race. Despite Málaga's 1-1 draw at the Calderón (which secured their status in La Primera), Bernd Schuster told Spanish radio station, Onda Cero, that he'll likely leave the club after the season, a decision I'm sure was not difficult to make.

Strangely, Schuster was offered a five-year contract back in June, of which rarely happens in Spain. It's uncommon for Liga managers to sign contracts that extend beyond 2-3 years. Despite this, there exists a clause in Schuster's contract that allows him to opt out (or be relieved of his duties), should Málaga not finish top 10. As I see it, the Costa del Sol side would be bottom three if not for January signing, Nordin Amrabat. All season, Malaguistas have chanted "Schuster vete ya" during home matches. The German was never well-liked, and made little attempt to connect with Málaga's fan-base. Such unlikability, coupled with poor tactics, has ultimately seen the end of Schuster's reign in southern Spain. Much to the dismay of no one.

Málaga 0 Levante 0

REAL MADRID over Espanyol

Real Madrid appear to be putting all of their eggs in the La Decima basket. If I was a Madridista, I'd be concerned about this. It's off-putting to watch the team you support put such meager effort into a league title challenge. To be fair, even if Madrid wouldn't have lost (rather pathetically, at that) to Celta, Atlético's draw with Málaga would have eliminated them anyway. But Ancelotti's side haven't won a Liga match since Jornada 34 against Osasuna. That's three straight games without a positive result. If they win Champion's League, I suppose all will be forgotten. But there's an equal chance that both the La Liga and Champion's League trophy could end up at the Vicente Calderón, of which would be quite a slap in the face to Madridistas everywhere.

Real Madrid 1 Espanyol 0

BARCELONA over Atlético de Madrid

If I'm honest, the emotional part of me wants Atlético to win this. I was a fan of Spanish football (without club allegiances) before I was a Barcelona fan. I want what is good for the league. Considering that it's been 10 years since a team other than Barcelona or Real Madrid won La Liga, it should go without saying how important this game is not just for Atlético, but for the entire league, which desperately needs an adjournment of dominance of Spain's "Big Two." I know Culés don't want to hear that, but it's how I see things, and I won't pretend to feel differently.

Despite this, if Barcelona win, it will hardly be "undeserved," as some have been saying. There is no such thing as an undeserved league title (barring cheating, corruption, etc.). Regardless of Barcelona's inconsistency against bottom-table teams, or inability to beat Atlético in previous meetings this season (zero wins in five games), they are in this position for a reason. If Barcelona don't "deserve" to win La Liga because of losses to Granada and Valladolid, than neither do Atlético, who've lost games to Osasuna and Almería. We've all been clamoring for competitiveness, but when a title team drops points to a relegation contender, suddenly they are "undeserving" of the league title. What a ridiculous notion.

From a tactical standpoint, I fear Tata Martino has no idea how to break down Atlético's defense. Not many do, I suppose. But if Barcelona are to win their 23rd La Liga title, they must be able to score. If five meetings this season, the Blaugrana have mustered just two goals against Simeone's side. It's hard to imagine anything other than a grind-it-out 1-0, 1-1, etc.

No manager in Spain (or Europe, for that matter) has been better than Diego Simeone this season. So from a coaching stand-point, Atlético have the advantage (Tata Martino has completely checked out, so don't get me started on that). But sometimes all it takes is one moment of individual brilliance. Can Lionel Messi be a difference-maker here? Iniesta? Xavi? With the club's tear-jerking farewell event for Carles Puyol, and perpetual state of heartache over the death of Tito Vilanova, I like Barcelona here, in what would be one of the most emotional league titles the club has ever won. What a fucking season.

Barcelona 1 Atlético de Madrid 0

VALENCIA draw with Celta de Vigo

If Los Che fail to beat Celta, it will be the first time since 1974-1975 that they will have finished third among Valencian clubs on the Liga table. Additionally, this has been the least amount of points registered in La Primera by a Valencia team since 1995-1996, the year three points was introduced for a win, instead of two. In what has been a turbulent season on and off the pitch for Che fans, the club may be able to salvage some pride, and finish strong over a thundering Celta team. As I've said all season, Valencia's off-the-pitch story-lines are much more compelling, as the club prepares for a resolution to what has been a very drawn-out sale process. 2014-2015 will essentially be "Year Zero" for Valencia's new ownership. Players will come, and players will go. But above anything else, Valencia's investors must take genuine interest in the club's sporting project, if Valencianistas are to see a return to glory.

Valencia 1 Celta de Vigo 1

REAL SOCIEDAD over Villarreal

This is actually a pretty important game here. If Villarreal win at Anoeta, they clinch 6th place, and are guaranteed a spot in the Europa League group stage. If not, they'll finish 7th, and will have to host a play-in game. Generally, Europa League play-in games are not that difficult, especially for a mid-table La Liga side. But both teams should be keen to avoid that nonetheless. La Real are coming off a satisfying 1-1 draw in the Euskal Derbia last week, but it is now being reported that Arsenal are keen to activate Carlos Vela's buyback clause (€4m), following what has been a phenomenal season for the former Mexican Gunner. Since I expect Griezmann to depart this summer as well, losing Vela would be a massive loss for the San Sebastián side. I like Real Sociedad here to clinch guaranteed Europa qualification, but what players will actually be around to participate next season, I can't be certain of...

Real Sociedad 2 Villarreal 0

ALMERIA draw with Athletic Club

After three consecutive wins, Almería have done an excellent job to distance themselves from relegation, though depending on this week's results, the Andaluz side could still drop down. In order for that to happen, Almería would have to lose to Athletic, Granada would have to win or draw against Valladolid, and Osauna would have to beat Real Betis by at least 3-4 goals (depending on the Almería-Athletic result). I suppose that is not outside the realm of possibility, though it is unlikely Osasuna will beat Betis by the needed margin, even at El Sadar. At the beginning of the season, Almería were losing leads left and right, as we all feared their inability to close out matches would end in relegation. But when it mattered most, Francisco's side came through, with three massive victories that all but seals their permanence in La Liga.

Almería 1 Athletic Club 1

Granada over VALLADOLID

I feel like I'm going out on a limb here. It would be devastating for Valladolid to lose at Jose Zorilla, as anything less than a win will see them drop down a division. But Granada are far superior in terms of individual talent. Not that that ever guarantees survival in a win-or-go-home scenario. Whatever happens, the atmosphere at Zorilla should be cracking. Valladolid are offering tickets for just €5, while Granada are providing free transportation for their owns fans, in collaboration with local sponsors and players. If Alcaraz' side fail to pick up a point here, they probably deserve to go down. They are too talented to be in this position. And a lot of that falls on Alcaraz himself.

Valladolid 0 Granada 1

OSASUNA over Real Betis

Even if Osasuna win, they'll need Valladolid to beat Granada, or Athletic to beat Almería (likely by at least 3-4 goals), in order to ensure their survival. I admire Osasuna as a club (being one of four non-corporate clubs in Spain), but with their proclivity to play negative football, I am quite ready for their relegation. I expect Gracia's side to come out strong, especially in a life-or-death situation, but Betis won't be a walkover. Ask Valladolid, who lost 4-3 to the Seville-based side last week, despite their ensured relegation. And since my beloved Béticos won't be in La Primera next season (unless anyone is interested in a Segunda feature?), I will end this by saying what every Bético says, in the worst of times: Viva el Betis, manque pierda. Long live Betis, even when they lose. We shall see you again soon!

Osasuna 1 Real Betis 0

RAYO VALLECANO over Getafe

At the risk of neglecting what could turn out to be a three-week hangover for Rayo players, who may still be in fiestón-mode following their guaranteed survival back in Jornada 35, I like Jémez' side here to put the nail in the coffin for Getafe, who are by and large the most disparaged club in Spain. Luckily, this is a derby, so the chances of Rayo actually putting effort into this are higher than they would be otherwise. With that said, I have to admit, when this season is over, I will be quite melancholy, as I fear the possibility of Jémez's departure from Vallecas is greater than ever. What he's done with this squad is remarkable. Every mid-table club in Europe (or even title contending clubs in lesser leagues) should be looking at Paco for next season. Undoubtedly, the Las Palmas-born manager is one of the finest in La Liga, and more than anyone deserves an opportunity to manage a club with increased resources. If that happens in Spain, great. Anywhere else, and it would be an utter nightmare for me. I love Paco almost more than football itself.

Rayo Vallecano 2 Getafe 0

SEVILLA draw with Elche

With Sevilla's win over Benfica in Europa League, it means in 8 days, Spain (domestically and internationally) will hold the following titles: World Cup, European Championship, Champion's League, and Europa League. Not to mention the European Super Cup, to be contested by Sevilla and one of Real Madrid/Atlético in August. This is the sixth time in the last 10 years that the Europa League winner has come from La Liga. A couple years ago, Sevilla's former president (and current convicted criminal), José María del Nido, famously stated that "La Liga is a shit league." Pub after pub, blog after blog, I've had to endure similar sentiments among football fans (especially in Premier League). And while major problems in Spain persist, there is one thing I am certain of, the football played in this league is among the best played anywhere in the world. To think clubs in Spain, with drastically less resources, regularly compete with other top European sides is a testament to that. Enhorabuena al Sevilla, y enhorabuena al España. Long live beautiful football.

Sevilla 1 Elche 1

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