La Liga: Relegation battle rages
Survival is the goal for four teams at the bottom, while the summer transfer madness has already got underway.
By Halima Ali
While most major leagues have wrapped up their domestic championships, La Liga continues to rumble on. And although the winners have long been crowned, the back end of the table is yet to be determined, with four teams ready to fight for their lives during the final jornada of the season this weekend.
As it stands, a 3-1 defeat for 17th-placed Deportivo La Coruña at Málaga means that all four teams in the relegation spots – Depor, Celta Vigo, Real Zaragoza and Real Mallorca – still have a chance of avoiding the drop.
Celta, in 18th on 34 points, won 2-0 away to Real Valladolid. Zaragoza, who also have 34 points, sit in 19th place and were thrashed 4-0 at Real Betis, while Mallorca, who are rock bottom on 33 points, drew 0-0 at third-placed Atlético Madrid.
Of the four, only one will survive in the top flight and Depor have the advantage of having their fate in their own hands. They also have the disadvantage of facing Real Sociedad, a team who have their own fight at the other end of the table, a final battle for a coveted Champions League spot.
Mallorca have survived the last two weeks on a knife edge, knowing they could mathematically be down already.
Gregorio Manzano’s side travelled to the Vicente Calderón at the weekend where the Copa del Rey celebrations were still continuing, with the trophy presented to fans. While still in party mode, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – whom José Mourinho reportedly wants back at Stamford Bridge if the coach returns to the Chelsea hotseat – denied Javi Márquez, tipping the midfielder’s powerful shot over the bar early on.
Diego Costa and Radamel Falcao had the hosts’ best chances in the first half, but neither forward could make it count.
At the start of the second half Courtois stopped a Giovani Dos Santos strike from close range and the visitors had a final chance when Alan Hutton sent a low ball across the face of goal but there was no one to meet it.
At the final whistle, Mallorca’s players and 400 travelling fans were well aware that they had passed up a fantastic opportunity to gain ground on their rivals.
Meanwhile, with no major tournament being played this summer – aside from the FIFA Confederations Cup – and with presidential elections taking place, transfers and speculation have started early.
The biggest signing of the summer has already been sealed with the news that Neymar is going to Barcelona. The Catalans, who had been linked with the Brazilian wonder kid for several years, were forced to battle with Real Madrid’s financial clout in negotiations last week, with the latter offering both his club, Santos, and the player significantly more money. In the end though, the forward chose the Camp Nou in a deal thought to be worth €60 million.
Mourinho will leave Madrid when the final game is played and Manuel Pellegrini could also be joining him in England, possibly at Manchester City, though neither appointment has yet been announced.
The Chilean, who led the Andalusians into the Champions League for the first time in their history and then to the quarter-finals, is understandably highly regarded at Málaga and banners expressing thanks were unfurled at La Rosaleda at the weekend.
Hot on his heels could be Isco. The Málaga midfielder’s agent was spotted at the Santiago Bernabéu last week but he has since expressed a desire to follow his mentor Pellegrini next season.
“He’s been my footballing father and I know that he likes me. Of course I’d like to continue with him” Isco said.
But the playmaker also suggested regular first-team football would be uppermost in his thinking when he decides where he will play next season, perhaps ruling out the Bernabéu.
In the capital, the hunt for a new manager at the Bernabéu continues, with Carlo Ancelotti’s employers, PSG, unwilling to let him leave. Jupp Heynckes, who won the Champions League while at the helm of Los Blancos in 1998 and triumphed again on Saturday with Bayern Munich, could find himself back in Madrid if Ancelotti does not take the job.
Falcao and Barça keeper Víctor Valdés are both rumoured to be joining AS Monaco, Eric Abidal is sure to leave Barcelona in the coming weeks, while Athletic Bilbao’s Iker Muniain will most likely head to new shores. But there is sure to be plenty more movement of players this summer in la liga.
Atlético Madrid 0 – 0 RCD Mallorca
Real Valladolid 0 – 2 Celta de Vigo
Real Betis 4 – 0 Real Zaragoza
Málaga CF 3 – 1 Deportivo La Coruña
Valencia CF 1 – 0 Granada CF
Real Sociedad 3 – 3 Real Madrid
Athletic Bilbao 0 – 1 Levante UD
Osasuna 2 – 1 Sevilla FC
RCD Espanyol 0 – 2 FC Barcelona
Getafe CF 1 – 2 Rayo Vallecano
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