10 for 10: 10 Things to watch for in the last 10 rounds
Michael Moschetto takes a look at the top ten storylines La Liga fans could see in the remaining ten weeks of the season.
We’ve reached 28 jornadas (rounds) of the 2012/13 La Liga campaign. With 10 games remaining for every club, many storylines are in play. Here are ten of the most exciting ones:
1. The “other” Madrid clubs
Forget about Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, the probable occupants of second and third place at the end of the season. Getafe and Rayo Vallecano, sitting at 8th and 9th place respectively, have a chance to finish in the top 10 this season, giving Spain’s capital an unprecedented four teams in the top half of the table. Getafe have a fearsome striking duo of Adrian Colunga and Alvaro while Diego Castro pulls the strings from midfield. Rayo, a media favorite last year as reports of their extremely humble means surfaced, are led by Piti and young striker Leo Baptistao. Both clubs have had successful seasons and look to continue their form.
2. Can Messi top his goalscoring from last season?
After scoring 50 goals in 37 league games in the 2011/12 campaign, many wondered whether such a feat was possible to achieve again. Sure enough, the pint-sized genius has 42 goals in 28 games, giving him a goals-per-game ratio of 1.5, topping his rate of last season. I’d say it’s a safe bet he is more than capable of scoring eight goals in 10 games.
3. The relegation battle
Currently, Deportivo La Coruna, Celta de Vigo and Mallorca are in La Liga’s basement with 20, 23 and 24 points respectively. The Galician duo of Depor and Celta seem unlikely to climb out of the zone, so the final spot will come down to Mallorca, Real Zaragoza (26 pts), Granada and Osasuna (28 each). In my opinion, Osasuna has the most difficult slate of fixtures remaining, as they take on Malaga, Real Sociedad, Valencia, Rayo, Getafe, and Real Madrid. They are my predicted third team to head down to the Liga Adelante.
4. The race for fourth place
A little more enticing than the struggle to avoid relegation, the fight for number four in La Liga will come down to the wire. Real Sociedad are currently in the Champions League playoff position; the Basque outfit has played outstanding football, having suffered two losses since November 1 of the previous year. With 47 points, the txuri-urdin are just above Valencia (45) and Malaga (44) in the league table. Considering Real Betis was a favorite to finish fourth as recently as a month ago, it is extremely tough to pick one particular squad with just under a quarter of the season to play. I am impressed with Sociedad’s play so far but I have a hunch Valencia has what it takes under Ernesto Valverde to return to Champions League football once again.
5. How the Champions League teams will fare
Three of the last eight teams in the UEFA Champions League ply their trades in La Liga; in addition to the Clasico teams, Malaga has crashed the party of Europe’s greatest club competition. With Barcelona possessing a comfortable lead over its league rivals, look for a steady rotation of its players to preserve the legs of its aging players. Jose Mourinho has made it well known that “la decima” is the foremost goal of Los Blanco’s season, so expect some “unexpected” dropped points in the next two months of league play. Malaga has the most interesting situation of the three, however. In a perfect world, they would be able to balance the pressure of their tie with Borussia Dortmund with the remaining rigors of La Liga in order to finish in a European competition place and get rid of their one-year ban as soon as possible.
6. The Real Madrid circus
Between Mourinho dropping Iker Casillas, the alleged “ultimatum” from the players and the hungry pursuit of a 10th European Cup, what else can we possibly see from Real Madrid in a memorable 2012/13 campaign? A premature exit from the Champions League would cause a serious unraveling within the club (even more, I suppose), but how will Mourinho go out in what is most likely his last season in Madrid? Football tabloids will keep a close eye on the club as we approach the most critical stage of the Portuguese manager’s tenure in the country’s capital.
7. Clubs with a second coach, a second lifeline
RCD Espanyol, Granada, Sevilla and Mallorca all fired their manager at earlier junctures of the season; only Mallorca has really slumped thereafter. Javier Aguirre has worked wonders with Espanyol, Lucas Alvarez is slowly pushing Granada out of the relegation zone, and Unai Emery led Sevilla to the Copa del Rey semifinal before ultimately tumbling out. Gregorio Manzano still has his work cut out for him with rescuing Mallorca, but there is no reason that all four clubs can start next season in La Liga feeling good about their men in charge.
8. Athletic Bilbao’s last season in San Mames
The mighty Basque giants have had a whimper of a season, struggling out of the gate and failing to make a mark in either cup competition they participated in. Marcelo Bielsa has been scrutinized heavily as his squad sits in 14th place: not too close to the relegation zone but significantly lower than most pundits’ expectations. The season has been especially sour considering it is the final one in the legendary San Mames, a proverbial cathedral of Basque football. I hope the club attempts to salvage something out of the season and advance up the table; one can imagine the emotion charged into San Mames in its final game, a May 29 fixture against Levante.
9. Spain’s fringe players
The Confederations Cup is this summer, and it usually serves as a preview of some of the squads we will see in the following summer at the World Cup. Barring something unusual (or a huge spike in Brazil’s form), Spain will have the strongest squad at the tournament. Players in La Liga such as Roberto Soldado or Benat Etxebarria, who have earned a cap for Spain in the last year, have something to prove in hopes of being called up for La Roja this summer. Moreso, U-21 players such as Isco, Martin Montoya and Inigo Martinez will strive to become some of the youngest players on Vicente del Bosque’s squad sheet. Keep an eye on these guys.
10. Barcelona wrapping up La Liga- with a new generation
As Barcelona eye a double of La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, it will become imperative that the squad is rotated accordingly. This will become increasingly evident as we approach the latter stage of domestic play. Look for the club to give increasing minutes to its young players; Montoya, Marc Bartra, and even Rafinha (brother of Thiago) have had successful seasons (especially Rafinha for Barca’s B squad) and deserve first-team minutes. Even teenage star Gerard Deulofeu could see himself playing in the Camp Nou by the end of the season. Barcelona’s youth system and the players it produces can be praised ad nauseum but these guys are nothing but the real deal.
By Michael Moschetto – Follow @ElMiguelon11