All-conquering Barcelona may be the talk of Europe, but the spotlight in this weekend’s final round of Primera Division fixtures moves away from the Catalan giants and onto battles elsewhere.
Barca this week become the first Spanish team to win the treble of league, cup and European Cup after defeating holders Manchester United in the Champions League final, but the only thing riding on their season finale against Deportivo La Coruna is that their opponents still have an outside chance of getting into the Europa League.
Much of the focus this weekend, therefore, will be on the two-horse race to claim the final Champions League spot and the five-way battle to avoid the drop.
At the top of the table, Atletico Madrid and Villarreal are the last two standing in the quest to join top three Barca, Real Madrid and Sevilla in the Champions League next season.
While at the foot, Osasuna, Sporting Gijon, Real Betis, Getafe and Real Valladolid will all be desperately hoping to avoid following bottom pair Recreativo Huelva and Numancia through the relegation trap door.
Atletico appear to hold all the aces in their bid to get back into European football’s premier club competition.
Not only are they one of La Liga’s most in-form teams with seven wins in eight matches, but they also boast the leading scorer in the division with Diego Forlan having taken his taken his tally to 31 with a hat-trick in last weekend’s 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.
More importantly though, they hold a two-point lead over fifth-placed Villarreal and due to a better head-to-head record against the Yellow Submarine this season, need only a draw at home to Almeria to finish fourth.
On top of all that, mid-table Almeria have taken only nine points from a possible 54 on their travels this season.
The odds could hardly be more stacked in Atletico’s favour, but Rojiblancos defender Tomas Ujfalusi is taking nothing for granted.
“We still haven’t mathematically clinched a Champions League spot, we still have a bit to go,” he said. “We know that the encounter against Almeria is going to be very tough, but we’re ready to face it.”
Villarreal’s only option is to win their match at Real Mallorca, and hope that Atletico slip up in their fixture.
The Yellow Submarine’s striker Joseba Llorente, whose brace in last weekend’s 3-1 win over Valencia ended Los Che’s own hopes of getting in the Champions League, said:
“We really want to win our game and then see what happens. If we slip-up and Atletico lose it will be a huge disappointment for us.”
Those two matches take place on Saturday night, as do the other two games involving clubs fighting for European places.
Sixth-placed Valencia host Copa del Rey finalists Athletic Bilbao knowing they only need a draw to see off the challenge of seventh-placed Depor, who are two points behind going into their clash with Barca and also have an inferior head-to-head record against Unai Emery’s team.
The remaining six matches are on Sunday, two of which have nothing at stake but pride – relegated Numancia against third-placed Sevilla and Espanyol versus mid-table rivals Malaga – but the other four involve teams fighting for their lives.
Osasuna are currently occupying the final relegation spot and they meet deposed champions Real Madrid, who have lost each of their last four matches.
However, there are four teams within two points of Osasuna’s tally of 40, and Sporting (40), Betis (41), Getafe (41) and Valladolid will all be feeling the pressure this weekend.
Sporting are at home to already-relegated Recre, Getafe travel to Racing Santander and Betis and Valladolid go face-to-face knowing that one of them will definitely be safe.