Heading into the winter break, the three major Spanish clubs all have a place booked in the Top 4 of La Liga. Barcelona currently have a three point lead over second place Atlético Madrid while Real Madrid are 12 points off the leaders, but have a match in hand. Sevilla occupy third and find themselves five points off the leaders Barcelona.
Two major surprises this term are Alavés and Getafe who find themselves in competition for European places as they currently occupy fifth and seventh, respectively. Conversely, teams like Villarreal and Valencia are having disappointing seasons considering that both qualified for European competitions last year. Currently, Villareal occupy 18th place (relegation place) and Valencia is sitting middle of the table at 8th.
Now that I’ve pointed out some of the key teams this season, let’s review the results from the final matchday before the winter break, and then preview the second half of the season before finally coming to predictions.
Last Matchday Results
Girona 1-1 Getafe
Real Sociedad 0-1 Alavés
Real Betis 1-1 Eibar
Atlético Madrid 1-0 Espanyol
Barcelona 2-0 Celta Vigo
Athletic Club Bilbao 1-1 Real Valladolid
Valencia 2-1 SD Huesca
Leganes 1-1 Sevilla
Rayo Vallecano 2-1 Levante
Matches resume on January 3, 2019
Let’s preview the second half.
The second half of La Liga figures to be interesting because Real Madrid look to be gaining steam under caretaker manager Santiago Solari who replaced the embattled Julen Lopetegui (the same who controversially left the Spanish National Team just days before their tumultuous World Cup campaign). This means that a resurgent Real Madrid should challenge for a place in the European places, and will certainly look to make up ground in the title race, although 12 points at the winter break could be a hard ask given how the team opened the year. I also expect Valencia to start pushing for a Top 4 spot in a bid to secure a second straight season of Champions League football. Of the teams currently in the Top 4 who could fall out, Sevilla would be the favorite, as they still have three chances at silverware in the Copa Del Rey, La Liga, and the Europa League which could congest the fixture list down the stretch leaving a potential run for Alavés and Real Betis into the Top 4.
As for the relegation battle, the only spot I see as up for grabs is currently occupied by Villarreal. However, their position could be complicated by an ongoing Europa League campaign and league matches, something other clubs in a similar position do not have to deal with. As for the bottom two places, SD Huesca and Rayo Vallecano look fairly straightforward as both sides have had trouble scoring and keeping goals out, a recipe for relegation. The teams that face the most immediate relegation threat are the aformentioned Villarreal, Leganés, Athletic Club Bilbao, and Real Sociedad who are separated by a margin no larger than four points. Of these sides, Leganés and Athletic Club Bilbao appear to be the most ready made for relegation as they currently have the worst goal differentials among the above clubs.
Player of the Year: Lionel Messi (I know, but please comment someone else if you don’t agree)
Top Scorer: Luis Suárez
Most Clean Sheets: Jan Oblak
Barcelona (champion and Champions League qualification)
Real Madrid (Champions League qualification)
Atlético Madrid (Champions League qualification)
Sevilla (Champions League qualification)
Real Betis (Europa League qualification)
Valencia (Europa League Final Qualifying Round qualification)
Athletic Club Bilbao
Rayo Vallecano (relegated)
SD Huesca (relegated)