LaLiga: Keys and competitions in the final stretch

May 7, 2024, 5 p.m.

LaLiga: Keys and competitions in the final stretch

There are only a few rounds left in the league, where there are still some things to resolve: Champions League positions, the fight for Europe, relegation, etc. Although in general terms we can already glimpse how the qualification will be at the end of the 38th matchday.


Therefore, in this article, we will analyse, through different keys, how and what factors the teams have reached this stage of competition and what factors put them in the current position.

Therefore, we will divide the analysis into 4 parts: Champions League, Europe, Quiet Zone and Relegation.



Let's start analyzing from the top, where we find Real Madrid, which has just been proclaimed champion this weekend, with the victory against Cadiz and the defeat of Barça in Montilivi. The latter is currently disputing the second position with Girona, one of the great revelations of the season. On the other hand, Atletico Madrid, after an irregular year, is looking to consolidate its fourth place.  Finally, Athletic are dreaming of returning to the Champions League in the same season in which they won the Copa del Rey again, 40 years later.

The key to Real Madrid's league performance has been its defensive consistency, having lost only one game. If they maintain this level, it would be the first time in 35 years that they have done so. However, they have the club's second-best goals allowed per game record (0.62) since the 88/89 season, ranking as the second-best record in the 5 major European leagues this season. In addition, they have a positive xG- PSxG difference of 2.1 which tells us that they have managed to force bad shooting situations on opponents as there has been a lower value of expected goals after the shot than before.


In second place, we find the revelation of the season: Michel's Girona. For many rounds, they were in the fight for the league title, but in recent months they have fallen out of contention. However, the work of a team that, having just been promoted last season, had lost some of its most important players should not be underestimated. The key to Girona's success has been their prominent attacking play, with their full-backs joining the attack as if they were midfielders, helping to control possession and keep pressure on the opposition's box. They are the team that, after Real Madrid and Barcelona, makes the most progressive drives per 90 minutes (22.9) and 4th in progressive distance through passes made per 90 minutes (2802.9m), ranking 9th in the top 5 leagues. It is the 16th team that makes the most passes to the final third of the 5 major leagues (36.1 p90), and in front of goal, they are performing at a very high level of goal efficiency, being the best in the league (0.43 G/TaP).


Next, we find Barcelona, who in the midst of a turbulent season arrived at the classic with options to fight for the title, but these hopes were dashed with Bellingham's late goal. Moreover, this past matchday they have been defeated by Girona, and have lost the second place with 4 games to go. If they are not competing with Real Madrid for the league title, it is due to their lack of resolve in all areas of the game, especially in effectiveness in front of goal, where their performance has been significantly below expectations, scoring 4.3 fewer goals than they have generated (the seventh worst record in the category).


Despite conceding more goals at the back than they should have (-4.1 PSxG+/-), Barcelona would not be in third place were it not for their superior performance to most teams in the competition. In fact, they have generated the most expected goals (71.3) and allowed the fourth fewest (37.3).


Finally, in the battle for fourth place are Atletico and Athletic. While the former is going through a very complicated season, with a notable disparity in performance between their home and away games, the Basque side has once again excelled in the Copa del Rey and is determined to snatch fourth place from the Atlético de Madrid. However, this fight seems to be over after Atlético's victory on April 27, although it is not yet mathematical.


Atletico has failed to maintain consistency, which is reflected in its home and away performance. While at home they have only allowed one draw and one defeat, totalling 5 points, away from their stadium they have lost a total of 30 points, with three draws and eight defeats. This is a team that seems to lock up when playing away from the Metropolitano: it goes from generating more than one goal difference against the opponent per 90 minutes (+1.02 xG/90) to staying at practically the same level (+0.16 xG/90). On the other hand, Athletic Club, who had not participated in European competitions since the 2017/2018 season, will secure their return next year thanks to an exceptional season that they will crown with success if they manage to snatch the fourth place from the Madrid team. However, the success of Valverde's team is not due to luck, but to effective work, highlighting their great high pressure in matches, which allows them to generate dangerous situations when the rivals are not ready. This is evidenced by the fact that they are the 5th team in the 5 big leagues that has made the most recoveries (1728) and the 6th that makes the most tackles in the final third (2.81 p90). This has allowed them, by defending so high up, to have plenty of space at the back to correct in the event of being overrun, reflecting the fact that they have conceded the 10th fewest goals in the Big 5 leagues (27).



In this section we find the teams that are fighting to secure their participation in European competitions. In this case, there are two places at stake, due to Athletic's victory in the Copa del Rey, which gives them a place in the Europa League and being in a position to secure another via the league, the next in the standings. This being the case, the seventh-placed team will be eligible for the Conference League. Therefore, Real Sociedad, Real Betis, Valencia and we could even include Villarreal or Getafe, will fight until the end to achieve the coveted goal of qualifying for Europe. Now, let's analyze how they reach these last rounds:


First we have Real Sociedad who had been competing at the top for a few years until they qualified to Champions League last season, and this year they have suffered the consequences, as it is a level of demand to which a squad like this one was not yet prepared and more being a team that makes many high intensity efforts in the matches. 


Despite this, they are still competing to stay in European positions, although the possibility of reaching the Champions League is far away. They have managed to stay in this position thanks, among other things, to their solid defensive performance.Although we are not seeing the best version of their center-back pairing, as a team they are the third team that allows the fewest shots on goal per 90 minutes (3.44). They are also the second team that has allowed the second fewest expected goals after shooting (PSxG) (32.9), and the third that has most effectively reduced opponents' expected goals (0.27 PSxG/TaP).


They are followed by Real Betis, just 2 points behind. For the Andalusian team, this season was seen as another step in its growth process, marked by its third consecutive year in European competitions. However, it seems that this year that growth has slowed down, despite having many options to finish in a position that guarantees access to Europe. Betis' main problem has been their offensive performance. They have only generated 39.6 expected goals (64th of the 5 big leagues), one of the two teams ranked in the Top 10 of their league that have generated less than 40 goals. The low goal scoring efficiency of their strikers (only two have more than 3 goals) and the dependence on a player like Isco (93rd percentile in chance creation in the big 5), who has missed up to 7 games due to injury or suspension, has reduced the team's ability to aspire to higher levels. Even so, they still have options to fight for sixth place with Real and should not be discarded.


Immediately after, due to the streak of defeats, including one against Betis on matchday 32, is Baraja's Valencia, one of the great revelations of the season. The club, which has been one of the most important teams in the competition this century, has been in a very delicate situation at club level for some years with a disastrous management by Peter Lim, who has been plundering the team year after year until they were on the verge of relegation last season, when Baraja arrived and saved the team with the help of the canteranos (youth players). This season they were expected to be fighting for salvation but defying logic they are fighting for Europe, thanks mainly to their defensive rigidity, which has a lot to do with the great performance of Mamardashvili (8.6 goals saved) and up to 3 penalties saved (60% success rate). And the goalscoring contribution of Hugo Duro, the only Valencia player to have scored more than 5 goals (12) and who has given the team more than 9 points.


Already 2 points behind (7 points away from Europe) is Marcelino's Villarreal, who took over the team in November with a very poor balance, only 12 points in 13 games, and has placed them as the 6th best team in LaLiga since his arrival on the bench (33 points). Although they seem to be late to the fight, we cannot rule them out until it is mathematically impossible as their pair of strikers Sorloth (17+6) and Gerard (10+4), along with Baena, top assists in the league with 12 assists, have not said the last word.


Two points behind and already at a wide distance from Betis is Bordalás' Getafe, a team that with the return of the coach from Alicante has returned to being that tough team, that goes all out and against which only one team wants to play, however they are the team in the league that completes the fewest passes per 90 minutes (270), as well as the one that attempts the most long passes (91). It is a great representative of the direct play of the competition and the hallmark that has put them back in a position to fight for Europe and not have to worry about relegation.


Quiet zone

In this area of the table are those teams that have already fulfilled their objectives of maintaining the category (Las Palmas, Alavés) and those that have not performed at the level expected of them but have not fallen so far as to be worried about relegation (Osasuna, Sevilla). Nothing is at stake at this stage of the season (except for the TV money that is given depending on the final position in the league) and if they are here it is because they have not managed to stand out in any relevant aspect. 



Unlike the teams that are no longer playing for anything, these 6 teams, in reality and although the mathematics say otherwise, only 4, since Almeria and Granada already have more than a foot and a half in the second division, are playing for a lot. The relegation is a very complicated procedure since for the clubs to maintain the category can mean a world. It is not the first time that clubs after relegation have to undo a large part of the club's structure or get involved in the second division, which is one of the most evenly matched competitions in existence, from which they cannot escape.


This year, there are two teams that have been preparing their own path to relegation for a long time, in fact, Almeria did not win their first game until the 29th matchday. Not only have they been the worst and 4th worst team allowing the best chances to their opponents, Almeria (0.33 PSxG/TaP) and Granada (0.31 PSxG/TaP), but they have also been top 10 in goals conceded in the big 5 leagues, Granada (10th) and Almeria (7th). 


The real fight is between Mallorca, Celta, Cadiz and with the latest results Rayo will also have to suffer in the last stages of the season. The first two and Rayo, 2 points away, start with an advantage, a priori, quite good, because the 6 and 8 points that separate them, respectively, with Cadiz seem today, insurmountable, and more with a team that has only won 4 games. Even so, it is not all day and there is still enough time left for anything to happen. 


The cases of Mallorca and Celta are striking, as the former reached a Copa del Rey final after 20 years. However, they have failed to perform at the same level in LaLiga. This has probably been influenced by having focused on the cup competition or by not having a large enough squad to adequately tackle both competitions. Another of the keys has been the poor performance of their two reference strikers, both Larin (-5.5) and Muriqui (-3.6) have had the worst and the third worst difference between expected goals and goals scored, having gone from 8G+3A (in 19 games for Larin) and 15+3 (in 35 games for Muriqui) last season to only 7+4 between the two this season.


On the other hand, Celta started their centenary season with an exciting project: Rafa Benítez took over the Celtic bench and was expected to lead them to new horizons. However, the team failed to reach its potential and Benítez was sacked. The team has not excelled in any facet of the game, and their best player and leader, Aspas, has made it clear that the years do not pass in vain. At almost 37 years of age, he is still just as important in the Vigo team's scheme, but no longer as decisive as in the past, and only a few players have been up to the task, albeit only at specific moments.


Rayo, which since the departure of Iraola, has failed to excel in any facet of the game and with the performance of players like Trejo, Isi or Camello below the previous season or the departure of Catena, has returned to flirt with relegation in recent days.


Finally, the most complicated of the four teams is Cádiz CF. After several years of maintaining the category with a precarious balance, this year they see how they have failed to be that tough team to beat that they had become. If the team fails to score in the remaining games, even if they were to score up to 5 more goals, this would be the season with the fewest goals scored in the first division in over 30 years. Moreover, they have struggled to keep a clean sheet: last season they managed to do so on 13 occasions, earning 29 points (8V-5E), while this year they have only managed to do so on 6 occasions, earning only 10 points (2V-4E)). This abysmal difference is unforgivable in this competition.


As we have been able to observe, there is still much to be decided in the last few rounds of the league, and the final destination of the season, along with the aspirations and challenges for the next campaign, will depend on how the teams maintain or change their dynamics. The competition is red hot and thanks to this analysis we have been able to understand why LaLiga teams have reached this point of the season the way they have.



G = Goals

xG = Expected goals

PSxG = Expected Goals After Shot

TaP = Shot on Goal

Big 5 = 5 big leagues (LaLiga, Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1)


*Data taken from fbref as of 04/26/2024