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La Liga Picks: Jornada 37

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Match-round previews for Jornada 37 in Spain.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

VILLARREAL over Rayo Vallecano

It wasn't exciting. But with Villarreal's draw at the Pizjuán last week, Marcelino's side clinched Europa League qualification for the first time since 2011. If they win against Rayo, and Real Sociedad lose in the Euskal Derbia, the sides will meet on the final match-day to determine guaranteed qualification for the group stage (the loser, or 7th-place finisher, will then be faced with a play-in tie). If going by recent form, Rayo should be the favorites here. In 2014, Jémez' side have accumulated 30 out of a possible 51 points, putting them 6th on the Liga table in the second-half of the season. Villarreal, comparatively, have only accumulated 19 points during this period. But I like Los Submarinos here, who will be eager to avoid that Europa League play-off.

Villarreal 2 Rayo Vallecano 1

Valencia over LEVANTE

Following their upset of Atlético Madrid last week, David Barral insisted that his side were not out to ruin Atlético's title hopes, but rather wanted to remain competitive to finish the season. While I believe in their heart of hearts, the Levante players would not want to be responsible for ruining what could be one of the greatest achievements in modern football, you'd be foolish to think a monetary sum was not offered up by Florentino Perez for their exploits. In fact, Spanish multimedia group, Cadena Ser, reported that Perez offered a full €2m to each Levante player, should they come out victorious. We can't be certain of that, of course. But the notion of corruption in Spanish football is hardly far-fetched.

Levante 0 Valencia 1

ATHLETIC CLUB over Real Sociedad

After their defeat of Rayo last week, Athletic clinched their first Champion's League qualification since the 1998-1999 season. Fittingly, the club can commence celebrations in the Euskal Derbia at San Mamés this week, much to the dismay of La Real fans I'm sure. The San Sebastián-based side clinched their own Champion's League qualification only one year ago, but failed to live up the expectations, finishing with a mere two points through six games. Embarrassingly, I over-hyped Real Sociedad going into the European campaign, going so far as to say that the Basques were ready "to take Europe by storm," if you recall my La Liga Summer Transfer post back in August.

Despite La Real's poor showing, I think Athletic has what it takes to be a true European force next season, provided key players like Aymeric Laporte and Ander Herrera don't depart for bigger clubs. Ernesto Valverde has already declared his allegiance to Athletic, by rejecting reported interest in the Barcelona job (to the dismay of myself, as Valverde was my first-choice to replace Martino). But you have to admire Valverde's loyalty. What a job he's done with this Athletic team. Marcelo Bielsa initiated the development of these players, but ran them too hard, too soon. Valverde picked up where the Argentine left off, and now leads one of the most polished, exciting teams in La Primera. Aupa.

Athletic Club 2 Real Sociedad 1

Real Madrid over CELTA DE VIGO

I was actually going to pick Celta in an upset here before Real Madrid's midweek draw with Valladolid. It was always going to be unlikely that any of Atlético, Barcelona, or Madrid would close out the season on a consecutive win streak of five plus games ( I had the stat on how many times this has happened, but I lost it...). What Wednesday's result means is that if Atlético win or draw with Málaga this weekend, Los Blancos will be officially out of the title race. I won't overindulge this post with title permutations, but at this point, the league seems all but lost for Ancelotti's side, who've gone from "favorite" to "out of it" more times than I can count this season.

Side-note: What a moment Sergio Ramos is in, who has now scored in four consecutive matches. The Camas-born defender has now surpassed Joan Capdevila for most Liga goals scored among active defenders. Since most Culés won't admit it, I'll say what no one wants to hear -- when Ramos is on his game, there isn't a better defender out there. Not even Lord Thiago Silva.

Celta de Vigo 1 Real Madrid 2

GRANADA over Almería

After criticizing Alcaraz for his inability to motivate, and conservative tactics, it was fitting that Granada finsihed their game at Anoeta with five attackers on the pitch. Alcaraz abandoned his conservatism, changing from a defensive 4-3-3 to a more attack-inclined 3-3-3 (Recio was expelled via two yellows in the 54th). This formation change was soon rewarded with an injury-time equalizer from Odion Ighalo, as El Graná picked up a vital point in San Sebastián, meaning a win over Almería, and the Andaluz side secure their position in the top-flight. While I expect Granada to have another solid summer transfer window, from a tactical point-of-view, things must change, or the full potential of this squad will not be realized.

Almería, meanwhile, have picked up two consecutive wins, and now sit in 16th on 36 points. With their final match against a Champion's League-bound Athletic team, Almería should be keen to to pick up a positive result at Los Cármenes, in order to avoid a must-win situation against a team of Athletic's caliber. Unfortunately, I expect an ultra-conservative approach from Granada, who likely view negative football as the safest passage to short-term permanence.

Granada 1 Almería 0

Valladolid over REAL BETIS

Real Betis fans have already accepted their fate. In fact, following Betis's game against Real Sociedad two weeks ago, Seville-based publication ABC de Sevilla, ran the headline: "Betis-Real Sociedad: La Pretemporada Ya Ha Comenzado (0-1)". In other words, the preseason has already started. In a way, it's almost less devastating to have a season like Betis are having, as the idea of relegation has long been accepted. What the club needs more than anything is a clean slate. Add a new coach, and some eager, young home-grown players, and surely the only way is up. Betis will be back. Count on that.

As for Valladolid, the Castilla y León side shocked the world on Wednesday, thanks to a 85th minute equalizer from Humberto Osorio, which all but eliminated Real Madrid from the La Liga title race. I wrote last week that Valladolid average the fewest shots per game (9.9) in the league. After Ramos scored the opener, I didn't think La Pucela stood a fighting chance. But I suppose you should never underestimate a relegation contender. By the way, Osorio has the lowest Who Scored rating among Valladolid players with at least nine appearances. But  it was the Colombian's 4th goal of the season, three of which have come from headers off corner-kicks. Heroes emerge from unlikely places...

Real Betis 0 Valladolid 1

ESPANYOL over Osasuna

Someone must have given the Espanyol players some incorrect information following their win over Málaga back in Jornada 31. Back then, Los Pericos were 8th on the Liga table, with top-flight football next season all but guaranteed. Since then, Aguirre's side have lost five of six, and sit on 41 points, just outside the relegation zone. I'm not sure if Espanyol thought they were mathematically safe, or simply took the concept of a "mid-table team with nothing to play for" to a whole new level. As Sergio García said in his presser this week, "Until we're mathematically safe, I'm never going to relax." For the first time in a couple weeks, I think the Espanyol players are aware of the importance of their form.

Osasuna will likewise be fighting like hell for their own survival, but are one of five teams in La Primera that have yet to register a remontado. If the home side score first, it's difficult to see Los Rojillos getting anything from this. The born-and-bred survivalists that are CA Osasuna may finally experience the relegation that we seem to insist upon. Now I feel sad about it.

Espanyol 2 Osasuna 0

GETAFE draw with Sevilla

I can't imagine Sevilla being inspired in the least to play this game. With Wednesday's Europa League Final on the minds of Sevillstas everywhere, this is the perfect opportunity for Getafe to pull themselves out of relegation. Contra's side stunned Barcelona last week with a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou, but still find themselves in 18th place on 36 points. Not sure another draw will be enough (especially considering the amount of bottom-table fixtures this week), but any positive result against top Liga opposition will do, I suppose. Look for Paco Jémez to crush the dreams of Azulones next week.

Getafe 1 Sevilla 1

ATLETICO DE MADRID over Málaga

Well, we wanted a competitive league. We sure as hell got one now. If Atléti win against Málaga, and Barcelona pull off a win at the Martinez Valero, the two sides will meet at Camp Nou on the final match-day to decide the La Liga title. Most of you have likely already worked out the 243 permutations (Well, Sid Lowe has, at least). So I won't re-indulge you. I expect Simeone's side to bounce back after a disappointing loss at Levante last week. Both Diego Costa (injury) and Diego Godin (suspension) are likely to miss this one, but I don't fancy a Bernd Schuster-led upset at the Calderón. I don't fancy anything Bernd Schuster these days. Neither do Malaguistas.

Atlético de Madrid 2 Málaga 0

Barcelona over ELCHE

I find it almost comical that Barcelona are in this position. But football works in mysterious ways. This is obviously a must-win for Martino's side. Interestingly (or not so interestingly if you follow Spanish football regularly), Elche haven't lost at home since December. They've only conceded two goals during this period, and possess one of the toughest, most well-organized defenses in La Liga. In fact, only Atlético (9) have conceded less goals at home than Elche (12). If that's not compelling enough, Los Franjis need only one point to secure permanence in the top-flight. Considering their inability score goals consistently, I expect Escribá to park a bus the size of the Kingdom of Valencia. Oh, and did I mention, Escribá is a former Atlético Madrid assistant manager. In fact, it's how he got the Elche job. Funny, that.

Elche 0 Barcelona 2