We’re at the halfway mark in La Liga, and I venture to say the top of the table is quite a surprise to most people. Barcelona (51 pts) have a nine-point lead over Atleti (42), Valencia are 3rd (40) and Real Madrid are a distant fourth on 32 points. Villarreal (31), Sevilla (29), Betis and Eibar (27) are next.
While at the bottom, Las Palmas and Malaga (both on 11 points) look bereft of hope to survive, while Deportivo (16), Alaves (18) and Levante (18) are contesting the third relegation place.
In case you’re wondering, a year ago Madrid (43) and Sevilla (42) were both ahead of Barca (41) while Atleti (35), Real Sociedad (35), Villarreal (31) and Athletic Bilbao (29) made up the European places. That top seven finished as the top seven, but there was some shuffling, to be sure.
The surprise team (on the positive side) has to be Valencia. Who knew that what they needed was a strong dose of Marcelino? Well, it’s working for now, and since they don’t have European football to contend with, their players will be more rested than the others in the top five. I am personally surprised that Atleti are doing as well as they are, too—last year it seemed that maybe they were on the decline a bit, but the move to the new stadium seems to have energized them. They’re still as dour a side as you’ll ever want to see, but they are good at what they do.
On the negative side, obviously Real Madrid are a huge surprise, but I’m astounded at Real Sociedad. They finished 6th last season but have only one win in the league since mid-November.
For entertainment, Real Betis...wow. A 5-3 win over Sevilla, 4-4 draw against La Real, a 6-3 loss in the Mestalla, 4-0 over Levante, 5-0 loss at Eibar....they may not make it to the top of the league, but they are sure fun to watch.
As for Villarreal? High marks, for sure, given we (a) had a horrible preseason (b) replaced their manager at the end of September (c) have had a huge number of injuries (d) our leading scorer has been off for two weeks while negotiations continue about his future.
The surprising thing may not be that we have 31 points, it’s how we got them: losses to Sevilla at home, Levante, Leganés, away; draws with Depor and Espanyol at home; but wins at Celta, Valencia and Real Madrid. The second half of the season sets up pretty well for us if we can play well at home—we do have Barca and Sevilla away but we do host Real Madrid, Celta, Atleti, Athletic Club, Valencia at home among others.