“Nobody wants the Champions League”, ran the headlines after Sevilla, Valencia and Getafe all lost last weekend but there will be little margin for error when La Liga’s race for fourth place resumes on Friday.
Barcelona are champions, the big two Madrid clubs are certain to qualify, that leaves the last Spanish berth in the Champions League up for grabs.
Sevilla and Getafe are tied on 55 points, with Getafe in front on head-to-head. Valencia are three points back and probably need to win all three of their remaining games to have any hope of snatching fourth.
Valencia looked done on Sunday when a 1-0 defeat at home to Eibar gave their rivals the chance to move six points clear later that afternoon. “If they win it will be almost impossible,” said defender Jose Gaya.
But Sevilla lost too, away at struggling Girona, and then so did Getafe, beaten by Real Sociedad to leave all three clubs in the same positions as where they started.
If anything, Valencia have perhaps the easiest run in. They play away at bottom-club Huesca on Saturday before hosting Alaves, who are winless in seven, and Real Valladolid, who are 18th and have scored fewer goals than any other team in the division.
They also have an alternative route: winning the Europa League. They are also in the Copa del Rey final later this month against Barcelona.
“You want to play two finals of course, but we hardly have time to think about it,” said Valencia coach Marcelino on Wednesday. “We have one final for sure, after that it is step by step.”
Getafe, a club whose average attendance is below 10,000 and whose yearly wage bill stands at a little less than 40 million euros, are leading the Champions League race.
One place above them are Real Madrid, whose wage bill is close to 570 million.
“We are aware we can make history,” Getafe forward Angel said. “We know we have very little left. We want to end on a high note because you can fight all season and then one or two bad games mean you lose out.”
Getafe still have to go to Camp Nou but two home games either side, against Girona on Saturday and Villarreal on the final day will give them encouragement.
Even Barcelona, with the title already wrapped up, are unlikely to be at full strength, although Getafe will be without their coach Jose Bordalas, who is serving a two-game touchline ban for complaints about a referee.
Sevilla have perhaps the toughest run-in of the three.
Leganes should not pose too many problems at Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan on Friday night but then come Atletico Madrid away and in-form Athletic Bilbao at home.
“It would be a disappointment to miss out,” said coach Joaquin Caparros, who took charge in March and last month announced he has leukemia. “We have to play our best against Leganes. It will be a difficult game against a team that are having a magnificent season.”
Atletico need only a point away at Espanyol on Saturday to guarantee they finish above Real Madrid for a second consecutive year. Real are at home to Villarreal on Sunday.
Barcelona visit struggling Celta Vigo on Saturday, and are expected to rest key players again, with their focus on next week’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Liverpool.
Friday: Sevilla vs Leganes
Saturday: Levante vs Rayo Vallecano, Espanyol vs Atletico Madrid, Alaves vs Real Sociedad, Celta Vigo vs Barcelona
Sunday: Getafe vs Girona, Eibar v Real Betis, Real Madrid v Villarreal, Real Valladolid vs Athletic Bilbao, Huesca vs Valencia