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Villarreal at the break and a look at our remaining fixtures

Is it too early to look at our remaining 22 matches and chart a path to the Champions League, or at least the Europa League again? No, and Allen does it. Read on....

We've been doing well against the teams we should beat--keep that up and Europe awaits.
We've been doing well against the teams we should beat--keep that up and Europe awaits.
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Last year, Villarreal got off to a good start, with 28 points from 17 matches.  This year, we've bettered that, with 30 points from our first 16.

In fall 2013:

We lost last year to Sevilla and Getafe at home, Betis, Athletic Club and Barcelona away.

As I recall, we expected that last year we would do better in the first half as we had a lot of winnable home matches and a fairly easy start to the season--our first two away matches were at Almeria and Osasuna.  So it proved; we were undefeated in our first six matches, had 14 points at that point and 20 points after 10 matches.

Remainder of 2013-14 season:

Surprisingly, though we began the second half of the campaign well (5 goals against Rayo in Vallekas and 5 goals against La Real at El Madrigal) we went through a perplexing patch in February and March, failing to win at home against Celta, Betis, Athletic Club or Elche, and picking up only 13 points from 14 matches.  There were a lot of 1-1 draws in there!

In fall 2014:

This time the schedule had us playing Barcelona and Real Madrid early, though both at home, as well as Valencia at home; Sevilla and Atletico away.  We got nothing from the three home matches, three points from the away ones.

Keys to success in remainder of season:

Now that we're nearly halfway through the season, we can divide our remaining matches according to strength of opposition. (I'm still mystified by Athletic Club and La Real so didn't count them as "bottom half of the table sides", though that's where they are right now).

(1) Away matches against sides in bottom half of the table (5): Depor, Rayo, Elche, Almeria, and Getafe.

(2) Home matches against teams in bottom third of table (4): Levante, Granada, Cordoba and Elche.

(3) Home matches against somewhat better teams (3): Celta, Espanyol and Eibar.

Those 12 matches are over half of our remaining league encounters!.  The remaining 10 include:

(4) More difficult but still winnable home matches (4): Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Malaga, and Athletic Club

(5) More difficult but winnable, or at least drawable, away matches (3): Malaga, Athletic Club, and La Real

(6) Away matches we shouldn't expect much from (3): Valencia, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Several takeaways from this.  First, finishing in the top six or seven and claiming a Europa League spot next season is very achievable (should not be surprising):   if we could win the seven home matches against teams in the bottom part of the table, and pick up two wins on the road against say Rayo and Almeria (we beat them away last year), we'd have 57 points, even losing all the others.  57 points was enough for seventh last season (seventh qualifies for EL if one of the top six wins the Copa).

Second, consider the 12 matches in the first three categories.  Those are key matches for us to win: if we take all of them (7 at home, 5 away) we would have 66 points.  If we drop any points in these matches, we'd have to make them up elsewhere.  We need to avoid another February-March slump.

Third:  Let's look at our closest pursuer, Malaga.  Keep in mind, they have not played us yet, nor Sevilla.  Like us, they have nine remaining matches in the "should win" category: Almeria, Getafe, Cordoba, Depor and Elche (home); Levante, Granada, Rayo, Almeria (away).    So if you want to start scoreboard watching, seeing how they do in those matches is a good place to start.

Fourth: One way to qualify for the Champions League would be to take 28 of the 36 points from the first three categories, and 12 points from the last three, including home wins against Sevilla and Malaga.  That would give us 70 points, equal to what Athletic Club had last year finishing fourth.  Based on the results so far, I think it may take 68-69 points to get fourth this season.  That could change if the gap between the top seven and the rest of the league gets smaller--but for now, it's those seven who control their own destinies.