An educated guess on who will be relegated
With ten matches left to play in the 2020/21 LaLiga Santander season, Real Valladolid find themselves emerging from the international break in 16th place in the standings. This puts the club firmly in the fight to avoid relegation with just four points separating them from Eibar who occupy the first of the three places in the drop zone.
Just which clubs will survive and who will form part of the unlucky trio to descend into Spain’s second tier for next season?
In an exclusive feature to Pucela Escocia, I analyse the chances of survival of each of the clubs involved in the scrap to retain their status as a Primera División outfit.
The last time Real Valladolid were relegated to the Segunda División was on the last day of the 2013/14 season when they lost 1-0 at home to Granada after defender Stefan Mitrovic scored a first-half own-goal. Episode 005 of the Pucela Escocia podcast looked in depth at that season, featuring a detailed comparison of how one can draw parallels between that campaign and the output from this year’s squad. You can listen to the episode here, or on all major podcast platforms.
To determine which clubs can be considered rivals to Real Valladolid during the closing stage of the season, I included every team below them in the league as well as all clubs up to a maximum of six points ahead. This gave me a sample size of nine clubs; from Valencia in 12th place, down to S.D. Huesca who currently occupy the bottom spot in the table.
Twelve points separate Valencia and S.D. Huesca, making it incredibly tight and – on the face of the matter – somewhat difficult to predict who will ultimately drop down to Segunda at the end of the season.
There are very few things I enjoy in football more than getting stuck into the numbers with pen and paper, so I decided to look further into the statistics from each team, as well as who each will face in their final ten matches. I wondered if it was possible to make an educated assessment of how each club may fare as the season draws to a close. Although there is no exact science being followed, and several generalisations are made based on how the clubs have performed already this season, the outcome made for interesting reading.
I drew my conclusions from analysing four key areas:
· Each club’s current record and league position
· The record each has amassed from their earlier matches against the ten clubs they will face
· The overall strength of the opponents each club will face, based on an average of their individual league positions
· The gap between each club’s league position and the average of their next ten opponents
From this research, I will present how I believe the bottom of the league will look at the season’s conclusion.
I will go through each team one at a time, considering each of the points above and how it pertains to Real Valladolid’s chances of survival.
VALENCIA (12th, 33 points)
Los Che sit at the top of our mini-league, by having the best overall record of each of the nine teams being considered. In another season marred by off-field turmoil which contributed to wholesale losses of key players in the squad, Valencia have fared relatively well but continue to be their own worst enemies.
The run-in is very favourable for Valencia, for a number of reasons. In their remaining ten matches, they will face just four opponents who are in the top half of the table; Real Sociedad, Real Betis, Barcelona and Sevilla. This is the second-lowest amount of all of the sides in this study, with only Cádiz facing more (5). Also, they have already claimed 12 out of 30 available points against the teams on their remaining schedule (40%), making them the third-most successful of the nine in this category. Out of the six possible sides to do so, they are the only club who still have all of the bottom three sides on their schedule. Lastly, the average league position of their upcoming opponents is 12th after 28 matches, which mirrors the league position they currently occupy, meaning they have the easiest schedule of all of the nine sides in the study.
Real Valladolid travel to Mestalla on Matchday 35 to tackle Los Che, without a win at that venue since March 2009 which was also the last time they defeated Valencia.
OSASUNA (13th, 30 points)
The men from Pamplona have accrued 13 out of a possible 30 points so far against their upcoming opponents, placing them second in our mini-league behind Getafe. Just behind Eibar and Real Valladolid (8th), they have the second-highest average position of their next ten opponents (9th), but this makes a deficit of just four places if you take their own 13th place into consideration. Half of their upcoming matches are against top-ten sides but Osasuna have shown themselves to be a strong team, losing just three of the ten previous meetings and welcome back striker Chimy Ávila to their ranks.
Osasuna and Real Valladolid do not play each other again this season, having played out a goalless draw at El Sadar on Matchday 27 to go along with Pucela’s 3-2 win at the José Zorrilla in Matchday 13 back in December. This was a crucial win, not just because of the points but due it giving Real Valladolid the edge in any head-to-head measurements which may be needed to separate the sides at the end of the season.
GETAFE (14th, 29 points)
Los Azulones have struggled this season in comparison to preceding years, but this has not stopped them having the best record against upcoming opposition of any of our nine teams. They have won 14 of 30 points (47%), collecting four victories in that time. However, this season they have failed to beat any of the teams they will face in their last six fixtures so – if this form continues – they will be very much relying on the work achieved earlier in the season in their bid to stay out of trouble. They will be boosted by having the second-lowest average position of upcoming opponents (11), as well as the second-smallest gap between their position and that of their opponents (3 places).
Real Valladolid beat Getafe in both of their meetings this season, 1-0 in January away from home and 2-1 at their own stadium in early March. To date, they are the only side swept by Pucela this season and Sergio’s side had not won in the span between those meetings. The 2-1 home win in Matchday 26 remains Real Valladolid’s last league win.
CÁDIZ (15th, 29 points)
Cádiz returned to LaLiga Santander in the summer following a 14-year absence and began brightly, They won four of their opening seven matches back in the top flight and became noted for being the first promoted team to beat both Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Life back in Primera has not been so kind of late, and the team finds themselves flirting with relegation danger having won just one of their last ten matches.
Out of our nine focussed teams, Cádiz have won of the most favourable conclusions to their season. They face top-ten sides on three occasions (Real Madrid, Granada and a final day showdown with Levante) and share the lowest average position of opponents (12th) with Valencia and Deportivo Alavés. They play three out of the five bottom sides and miss having to take on teams like Barcelona, Sevilla and leaders Atlético at such a key stage of the campaign.
A vital match in the latter part of their season will be against Real Valladolid on Matchday 32. Presently there are only two points separating the sides, who played out an evenly matched 0-0 draw at the Estadio Ramón de Carranza in January.
REAL VALLADOLID (16th, 27 points)
As mentioned above, Real Valladolid are in hot pursuit of Cádiz in their bid to avoid the drop. This has been an unimpressive, lacklustre season where the hopes of building on successive improvements in league finishing have dissipated into being satisfied with not dropping down a division.
The struggle to maintain their status as a Primera outfit is made all the more difficult by the number of players and non-sporting staff who have succumbed to Coronavirus, meaning that their first match after the international break – Barcelona at Camp Nou – could not have come at a worse time. Along with Eibar, Real Valladolid have the unenviable task of overcoming the most difficult schedule based on opponents’ average league position. They, with the Basque side, must overcome rivals with an average placing of 8th in the standings, meaning there is an 8-position gap between themselves and upcoming challengers. Seven out of their remaining ten matches are against top-ten opposition, the most of any teams in our study, and only one match comes against a team below them in the table. That match, away to Elche, is the first of two of the most important confrontations of the season as it is followed up by the visit of Cádiz. Real Valladolid are currently nestled between the two in the standings and desperately need to pick up points in both of them to avoid being overtaken by Elche and moving closer to the drop. Only Los Franjiverdes, Deportivo Alavés and S.D. Huesca have achieved less points against the teams they will face in the concluding portion of the league.
A nightmare end to the fixture list sees Pucela face Villarreal (7th) at home, before an away trip to take on Real Sociedad (5th) and wrapping up their campaign against leading side Atlético at the José Zorrilla on May 23rd. Should their survival rest on a positive result on the final day of the season, Real Valladolid could not have picked a worse opponent to face, having not beaten the capital side since 2009.
Let’s hope that it doesn’t come down to that!
ELCHE (17th, 25 points)
The nearest challengers to Real Valladolid were also promoted in the summer, doing it the hard way with their ascent to the top flight being earned through the playoffs. It left the Alicante-based side very little time to prepare for their first season in Primera in five years. They had been relegated to Segunda at the conclusion of the 2014/15 campaign – despite finishing 13th – due to financial problems, but a Herculean effort last season saw them finish sixth in the second tier and beat Real Zaragoza and then Girona in the playoff final, thanks to a Pere Milla goal in the 96th minute.
Fran Escribà’s side have won just twice in the league (against Eibar and – most notably – Sevilla) since the end of October but have managed to haul themselves from the drop-zone more through the misfortune of Eibar than by their own design. Deportivo Alavés are the only upcoming opponent they have triumphed over this season, but they face just two teams in the top five (Atlético and Real Sociedad) which will help their cause. Their ten opponents have an average league position of 11th (joint-second lowest) giving them a gap of six places to confront.
They take on Real Valladolid in Matchday 31 at the Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero in a crucial match for both sides. In January, a first-half double from Josan gave Elche a commanding lead at the José Zorrilla but goals from Míchel and Joaquín (the latter coming a minute from time) saw Pucela snatch a point.
S.D. EIBAR (18th, 23 points)
It has been a rocky time for one of LaLiga Santander’s smallest sides, Eibar, who have suffered a winless spell stretching back to a 2-0 victory over Granada on January 3rd.
In their seventh season in amongst the elite since winning the Segunda in 2014, Eibar have consistently defied the odds. However, it looks like luck is finally running out on José Luis Mendilibar’s charges and the next ten matches are less than kind to them. Facing the joint-highest average league position of opponent with Real Valladolid (8th), they also have the largest gap (10 places) and the joint-highest number of top-ten teams to play (7) which they also share with Pucela. On the final day of the season, they host Barcelona at Ipurúa who – with things being as tight at the top as they are – may well need three points to pip Atlético to the title. Should the destiny of the championship already be decided one way or another, the Catalans may be in a more relaxed mood so the outcome of the title will have some bearing on the work facing Eibar if survival comes down to the wire.
DEPORTIVO ALAVÉS (19th, 23 points)
Locked on points with Eibar one place above them, Deportivo Alavés are perhaps more of surprise to find in peril of relegation than their fellow Basques despite a slight decline since their return to Primera. Having won the Segunda in 2016, they finished their first season back in the top division in a very respectable ninth position and were Copa del Rey finalists. Returns of 14th, 11th and 16th place followed in subsequent seasons, with last year’s poor finish underlined by a first-round exit of the Copa del Rey at the hands of Real Jaén of the Tercera División.
Despite occasional highlights such as a 2-1 away win at Real Madrid, this season has represented Deportivo Alavés’ poorest showing since finishing 18th in the 2005/06 league. Club coach Abelardo Fernández is in his second spell at the helm of the club from Vitoria-Gasteiz, having returned to replace the sacked Pablo Machín in January 2021 after being away from Alavés since he resigned at the end of the 2018/19 season. Unfortunately for all connected with the club, they have not been unable to recapture the form they showed under the former Barcelona and Spain defender’s guidance during his first tenure in charge and have won just once since he returned, which was in early February, against …. Real Valladolid! Pucela are the only side to date to lose both matches against the men from Mendizorrotza this season.
As with Valencia and Cadiz, the average league position of their final ten opponents is 12th which is the easiest of all nine teams. However, they have beaten just two of these teams already this season (Athletic Club and Eibar) which places them second to last in our mini-league. They play five top-ten teams but, most importantly, have matches against the other two teams in the drop-zone, playing Huesca and Eibar in back-to-back outings across Matchdays 33 and 34. This period will have the greatest bearing on who goes down to Segunda, especially in the match against Huesca who beat them 1-0 in December to take the driving seat in terms of head-to-head wins.
S.D. HUESCA (20th, 21 points)
The last of the promoted teams to enter our study is last-placed Huesca, last season’s Segunda champions. Having finished the 2017/18 season as runner-up in the second tier, Los Oscenses won promotion to Primera for the first time in their history. They struggled in their debut season in the top division and were demoted back to Segunda at the conclusion of the 2018/19 campiagn. However, the plucky side from Aragon bounced right back, capturing the second division title by the slimmest of margins when they pipped Cádiz to the trophy by a single point.
Their return to Primera has followed the same path as their first season and they have just three wins to show for their efforts. Their last 15 league outings have yielded two of those victories and they have not won since toppling Granada 3-2 on February 21st.
Two matches against Real Valladolid were hugely entertaining, if not ultimately disappointing for Pucela fans. In Matchday 6, Sergio took his men to El Alcoraz and saw them build up a 2-0 lead thanks to a Bruno header and a penalty from Waldo. However, immediately after the second goal Real Valladolid fell asleep defensively and allowed Rafa Mir, who had given goalkeeper Roberto a headache for the entire first-half, to pull one back. Worse was to come when ex-Pucela striker Sandro Ramírez – famed for his lengthy goal drought prior to arriving at the José Zorrilla – was introduced to the action and scored less than 20 seconds after coming on. It had taken the Everton loanee until the 12th match of the season to find the net for the Blanquivioletas, and his goal in this match earned Huesca a point. In the return fixture, Mir almost single-handedly destroyed the Real Valladolid defence in Matchday 21, scoring a hat-trick before Toni Villa avoided the further embarrassment of a shut-out with a goal in the 93rd minute.
Manager Pacheta knows that his team will have to pull that same kind of performance out of the bag on several occasions if they are to be spared the drop.
Using the metrics applied to the other sides, we find that the average league position of their opponents is 11th (tied-fourth lowest of the nine teams) and they must face five top-ten teams (Levante, Atlético, Real Sociedad, Athletic Club and Real Betis). In previous matches against upcoming opponents, they have won once (at home to Deportivo Alavés) which places them last in our mini-league with seven points from a possible 30 (23%).
Using past form as a basis for measurement and, making the extremely broad assumption that each of the nine teams will replicate the outcome of each of the previous matches played against forthcoming opponents, one can draw several conclusions from the information.
It would appear from the data gathered that only two out of the three teams currently in the drop zone will go down. S.D. Huesca would finish bottom of the pile as their projected seven-point gain from their next ten matches added to the 21 points already accrued would give them a total of 28 points and a -27 goal difference. Second-to-last in this scenario would be Deportivo Alavés (taking eight points added to 23) on 31 points with a -28 goal difference.
By my calculations – and I must remind you of the large amount of assumption taken into account too – the third team to be relegated would be Elche, by way of goal difference. Their projected eight points added to their existing 25 sees them finish on 33, the same as Eibar (10 projected plus 23 existing) but the Basques would survive by way of a -12 to -23 goal difference. Cue scenes of jubilation and relief at Ipurúa!
Finishing three points ahead of Elche and Eibar, Real Valladolid limp to a 16th-placed finish with 33 points (nine projected plus 27 existing) and a lamentable -19 goal difference? I’m old enough to remember when defence was a strong point for us!
In 15th place – the only promoted team to survive the drop by my loose calculations – is Cádiz! The Andalusians retain their Primera status with eleven points achieved from the end of the season to go with their already-gained 29. This puts them on 40 for the year, but with a terrible -25 goal difference but survival is what counts!
Ahead of the yellow men are Osasuna, finishing in 14th; a drop of one place from their current standing. The Pamplonans gain a healthy 13 points from their remaining fixtures which, added to the 30 in the bag already is enough to see them finish level with Getafe (14+29) on 43, but with a slightly better goal difference (-12 to Los Azulones’ -14).
Remaining in their current position of 12th is the last of our teams, Valencia. Benefitting from having one of the better records against upcoming opposition as well as the easiest schedule of the nine battling clubs, Los Che finish comfortably on 45 points (a projected 12 point haul from their last 10 matches to add to the 33 gained so far) but a club of this calibre should not be in the relegation discussion. Fans of Valencia, and those with an interest in the Spanish game as a whole expect more from the perpetually self-destructing club.
There you have it, my educated guess on who will be relegated to Segunda and who will live to fight another year in Primera. As I say, it is not an exact science - more a mixture of fact and hypothesis - but I feel it sheds some light on how the rest of the season will play out for the league's bottom sides. With an exciting title fight developing at the other end of the table, it is worth noting that some of the best action over the coming weeks may fly under the radar.
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