We've been focused on, and continue to focus on, the race for the European spots in la Liga, especially as they involve Villarreal. But there's an equally absorbing contest going on at the bottom of La Liga. With nine matches remaining now for most clubs (Espanyol and Elche play today), here's where we stand:
Almeria 25 (NB: they could lose 3 of these points due to a FIFA ruling, currently being appealed)
Let's look at each of these and consider their prospects, and (ha!) whether their relegation is likely to make players available we'd be interested in! In this post, I profile the bottom three: in a separate post, the next four.
Córdoba--Every year there is usually a club that magically rises from its slumber, and (perhaps with the aid of suitcases filled with whiskey and cigarettes, left as incentives for other clubs to help them out, or perhaps via other, more nefarious means) finds a way to pull off the Great Escape and remain in La Liga for another year.
Well, it's highly unlikely to be Córdoba. It's been great to see the Nuevo Archangel hosting Primera matches for the first time, and the fans of Los Califas have been terrific, with their club at the top level for the first time since 1972. Remember, they only got to the Primera with a late, late goal after Los Palmas fans' continued pitch invasions caused the referee to add ten minutes of extra time, so I guess anything after that is just gravy.
But Córdoba are in the bottom spot on merit, with only three wins all season. It's not that they're terrible--they haven't gotten blown out of very many matches--they're just not very good. With no money, they've had to rely on a bunch of players on loan, and while a couple of loanees can fit into a starting XI, virtually an entire squad of them just isn't going to provide enough talent or a nucleus around which the team can jell.
Form: Terrible. 10 straight losses.
Prospects for staying up: They need at least six wins in their remaining nine matches to have any chance of staying up. It's not happening.
Players we could be interested in: Well, Juventus lent them Fausto Rossi, after Valladolid went down. I suppose we could become his fifth loan team in five years! And there's this young striker, Florian Andone. We ought to know him; he came from Villarreal. Guess that's it.
Personal reaction: I can think of other clubs I'd rather see relegated, certainly. But they've earned the bottom spot on merit.
Granada-- Can it be? Could Udinese B/Watford C or whatever they are finally face the drop? Maybe, because this year's version of the Nazaríes has just looked lost more often than not. On paper, their attack of El-Arabi and Jhon Cordoba doesn't look too bad, but this team only has 18 goals all season. There's just not enough talent in midfield, and the defense has slumped. Cameroon international Allan Nyom, who ought to be the cornerstone of the defense, seems disinterested. January signing Emanuel Insúa has helped things some. But goals remain hard to come by.
Still, they have a chance, and when it comes to "hook or crook", surely this team has some cards to play yet. Don't they?
Form: Two 1-0 home wins and three 0-0 draws in their last ten matches, which for this group is pretty darn good. They sure rolled over against Madrid: what's their mentality after that shellacking?
Prospects for staying up: We'll know a lot in a week, because they need points from Celta (home) and Almeria (away) given that they have matches against Valencia, Sevilla and Atleti yet to go. If they don't pick up three or four points this week, it might be time to start filling those suitcases.
Players we could be interested in: Nyom or Insua, I suppose, though the first is technically on loan from Udinese and the second would doubtless be loaned to the Italians if Granada goes down. That's pretty much the problem with their entire roster, to be honest.
Personal reaction: The way their owners flip players between Udinese and Granada ought to be outlawed, so I'd love to see these guys relegated.
Almeria-- Alarm bells are definitely going off on the Andalusian coast. The sainted JIM (sainted to Ravi, anyway) wasn't able to stem the slide, and got the chop after Saturday's loss at home to fellow strugglers Levante. New coach Sergi Barjuan needs to hit the ground running. Almeria have four home matches they could theoretically win, since two of them (Malaga, Celta) against teams they beat on the road, and two against teams with poor form (Granada, Eibar). But the road matches--Barca, Madrid, Sevilla, even Rayo-- oof. And with a last-weekend match against Valencia, who might be fighting for a CL place, it's not going to be easy.
Form: After the Levante match, terrible. Three draws and four losses in the last seven.
Prospects for staying up: Hey, Sergi, how about playing this Javier Espinosa guy? Who knows, he might get you some goals! Forget the visits to the Camp Nou and the Bernabeu; it's the three matches in between (Granada home, Rayo away, Eibar home) that might decide their fate. And then there's the small matter of the three-point fine that could send them down anyway. It's looking like bye, bye rojiblancos.
Players we could be interested in: Sid loves Sebastian Dubarbier--an Argentine midfielder and left back who holds an Italian passport. Ticks a lot of boxes. What about Temer Hemed? 8 goals, not too bad. Probably not an upgrade, though.
Personal reaction: I would be sorry to lose Fernando Soriano from the Primera, but it's probably inevitable. The 35 year-old midfielder looks (and plays) like a truck driver who was having a couple of vermouths in a bar, and then suddenly found himself drafted in to the XI for the match. (Yes, I know, vermouth is a Barcelona thing; what's the Almeria eqauivalent??)
But seriously, given they're on their third coach of the season, it might be better for all concerned if they dropped down and retooled. It worked for us, at least. I just hope the three point deduction won't make the difference between them staying up or not, because if so, do you think the Spanish authorities will apply it?
So, the trivia question. There are FOUR players who have scored multiple hat tricks this season in Europe's top leagues (England, Spain, italy, France, Germany). Name them!! Remember, only matches in the league, not cups or European competitions. Answer in the comments below and let's see who gets it right!