Another round of matches seems to have established what we already suspected: there are five teams in clear danger of relegation. (For what it’s worth, FiveThirtyEight.com gives the current relegation probabilities as Rayo, 70%; Huesca, 63%; Villarreal and Valladolid, 48%, and Celta, 46%). (Levante, at 13%, look to be safe).
One way to look at each team’s chances is to look at their remaining matches and estimate how likely it is they can get to some arbitrary number (say 38 points). Of course, a team can get hot, some opponents are still playing in European matches so will make rotations, etc.; but it’s a start. So, here are the five relegation candidates, their remaining matches, and my assessment of their chances.
Real Valladolid (26 points)
Form: 6 points from last 10 league matches, 1 from the last 5.
(A) Eibar, Leganés, Alavés, Atleti, Rayo.
Valladolid do have seven home matches, yes. But their problem is they have already played almost everyone around them—just the one trip to Rayo, in the next-to-last week of the season, remains. They do own the tiebreaks against Celta and Villarreal, but whether they stay up probably depends on two things: can they win a few at home, and can they beat Rayo on the road.
The home games have a couple of opponents that might not be that motivated (La Real, Athletic), Sevilla have been poor away of late, and Girona aren’t that much farther ahead in the table. If they could take 8 of those 12 points, that would help a lot. The other three home matches don’t look helpful.
The away games, though... If they could get those 8 home points, pick up a draw at either Eibar or Leganés and defeat Rayo, they’d be on 38 points and would win a tiebreak with Villarreal or Celta. But given their recent form, that might be a big ask. 34 or 35 points seems a more likely ceiling than 38 at this point.
Celta Vigo (25 points)
Form: 4 points from last 10 matches, 4 from the last 5.
(H) Betis, Villarreal, Real Sociedad, Girona, Barcelona, Rayo
(A) Real Madrid, Huesca, Atleti, Espanyol, Leganés, Athletic Club
Celta have three matches remaining against the big three, and apart from Huesca, their away matches are against teams with strong home records.
However, the home matches (except for Barca) look pretty winnable, or at least ought not to be lost. And with matches against Rayo, Huesca, and Villarreal, Celta controls its own destiny. Win those three, pick up a win against unmotivated La Real at home and a draw against Betis at home, and they’re on 38 points—even assuming they lose to Girona at home and get nothing at Leganés or Espanyol. That seems reasonably doable, especially if Iago Aspas can get healthy, new coach Escribá can produce a bit of a bounce, or both.
Losing against Huesca on the road would make things tougher, yes, but there are certainly multiple paths to get to 38 or at least 36.
Villarreal (23 points)
Form: 8 points from the last 10 matches, 5 from the last 5
(H) Rayo, Barcelona, Leganés, Huesca, Eibar
(A) Levante, Celta, Betis, Girona, Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, Getafe
For Villarreal, it’s simple. Can a team that has won only 4 matches in its first 26 win 4 of its last 12? If so, they have a decent chance to survive, especially given the Submarine can likely pick up a couple of draws along the way to get to 37-38 points.
The good news is that Villarreal has an opportunity to do that, but there is little room for error. Villarreal MUST defeat both Rayo and Huesca, and need two more wins at least. There are opportunities: Leganés and Eibar are among the worst teams on the road, and Girona is the worst team in the league at home, with Levante, Real Sociedad and Celta not a lot better. Of course, Villarreal currently ranks 18th at home, 14th away, so....
The problem for Villarreal is the path to survival has narrowed — considerably. Valladolid already own the tiebreak against us. So too will Celta if Villarreal don’t win at Balaidos, and a loss to Huesca and/or Rayo would mean those teams would win a tiebreak as well. Sure, it could be that the teams around us split points with each other, no one can win much otherwise, and we escape with 33 or 34 points by beating Rayo, Huesca and someone else, and scrape a draw or two somewhere. Could that be enough? Maybe...
The simple math says if we win our remaining home matches, we’d have 38 points, so any points we drop at home have to be made up on the road. There is a wide range of plausible outcomes—between 32 and 40 points, really— because almost all of these matches could plausibly be a win, draw, or loss. 36 is in the middle of that range so I guess might be the most likely.
Rayo Vallecano (23 points)
Form: 13 points over last 10 matches, 0 from last 5.
(H) Betis, Valencia, Huesca, Real Madrid, Valladolid
(A) Barcelona, Villarreal, Eibar, Athletic Club, Sevilla, Levante, Celta
Rayo caught fire during January, but February brought five losses. Like Villarreal, they have only five home matches remaining. Three look difficult, two are against direct competition. They HAVE to win those two (Huesca, Valladolid).
Away, they play the other two of the five bottom teams. Defeating both Celta and Villarreal would get them to 35 points, and might be enough—or maybe not. But if they can’t win those four matches (and winning all four is not likely) I’m not sure how they get there. Levante is the only other away match that might bring something, though I suppose Betis at home is a possible win. But 38 points looks very unlikely. Something in the 32-34 range makes more sense.
Huesca (22 points)
Form: 14 points in last 10 matches; 10 points in last 5
(H) Alavés; Celta; Barcelona; Eibar, Valencia, Leganés
(A) Getafe, Real Madrid, Levante, Rayo, Villarreal, Betis
There are those already talking about the “Great Huescape”, as Huesca have done quite well in the last month. And they do have some other advantages: they won the tiebreak with Valladolid, and they still have to play the other three relegation stragglers. However, they have two of those matches on the road.
Huesca’s schedule is a lot like Villarreal’s, so how the blaugrana do at home against Eibar and Leganés (and Barcelona) compared to the Submarine, and how they do at Betis, Levante and Getafe compared to Villarreal, will be one key in separating these two teams.
The other key? The away matches at the Ceramica and Vallecas loom large, and they have to win at home against Celta.
As with Villarreal, Huesca has a wide range of plausible outcomes. It could be they’ve shot their bolt, and end up with 30-32 points; then again, they could end up with 38-40 if they can stay hot at home and pick up 3 or 4 draws at least on the road. Again, something around 36 points is in the middle of the range.
(1) This is shaping up to be like the 2009-10 season in the relegation zone, when on the last day there was one team on 33 points, four on 36. Two of those four picked up points, so 37 was needed for safety.
(2) Levante, Girona and Leganés all will have a lot to say about who gets relegated (or whether they get dragged into the zone themselves) as they play three, four and five of the bottom five, respectively. And so will Real Betis (who have to play everyone except Valladolid yet), Eibar (all except Celta remaining) and Athletic Club, Real Sociedad, and Getafe, who each have to play three of the five.
(3) Possible scenarios:
(a) none of the five here are able to put together any consistent form. In that case, the matchups against one another are clearly the keys, and who knows, maybe as low as 35-36 points is needed for safety. Unlikely, but possible.
(b) Huesca continues its fine form of late, Celta gets the new coach bump. Then Valladolid/Villarreal/Rayo are doomed unless one of them can somehow bridge the gap to a team above them like Girona or Levante, which is unlikely.
(c) One of the group ‘gets out of jail’ (probably whoever wins the Huesca-Celta match, I’d think). Then the other four are basically fighting it out. I see this as the most likely outcome.
(4) Regardless, the matches among teams in the bottom five will be key. Valladolid have only Rayo remaining; Rayo have each of the other four left (2 home, 2 away), the other three teams have three matches left against their fellow stragglers. Huesca are at a disadvantage in that one of their three is at home; Villarreal and Celta have two of the three at home.
Rayo look to have the toughest road to survival. Yes, they play everyone else but their current form is not so good, and the rest of their schedule doesn’t favor them.
How you rank the remaining four depends on your belief system. If one team is going to win four matches and two or three draws to get away from the rest, the schedule suggests Celta or Villarreal have the best chance of that, with Huesca and Valladolid less likely—but form moves Huesca’s chances up. Valladolid’s schedule is the worst of the four, but is their four-point cushion over Villarreal (because of the tiebreak) enough?
For what it’s worth, I ended up with Rayo and Valladolid on 35 at most; Huesca and Villarreal on 36; and Celta on 37. But note all of those are assuming the home team wins in each matchup between two of these bottom five sides. An away win, even a draw, changes the numbers dramatically.
And finally: beware of going into the final round and hoping other results help Villarreal. They won’t. Not only do we have a tough away match at Getafe (who probably will be needing the win to improve their standing in the European places) but we are the only one of the five ending on the road. Valladolid host Valencia: Los Che might be gunning for a Champions League place so maybe the match means something to them....but maybe it doesn’t. And Celta host Rayo, and Huesca host Leganés. What if Celta and Leganés are safe, and Rayo and Huesca are not? We’ve seen how that plays out before, and it’s not pretty.