x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

It was almost all to play for in Primera Liga

Below Barcelona and Real Madrid, the Primera Liga has been highly unpredictable, writes Andy Mitten.

Riki was part of the Deportivo team that were relegated after Saturday's defeat to Valencia.
Riki was part of the Deportivo team that were relegated after Saturday's defeat to Valencia.

For a league accustomed to accusations of predictability, Spain's Primera Liga was anything but on the final weekend of the season.

Six teams faced the drop alongside the already relegated Almeria and Hercules. While Barcelona and Real Madrid receive the lion's share of attention, television money and league points, La Liga is close and competitive once you go below the teams competing for European places.

After 38 games, just six points separated Deportivo La Coruna, who were the unfortunate one of the six to go down, in 18th place, from Espanyol in eighth. Mallorca, 11th with three games to play, could have gone down.

The relegation drama was unwanted by the teams in it, but it was ultimately exciting for all but the Depor fans. Over 8,000 Zaragoza supporters flooded into Levante's stadium with an enthusiasm not seen in Aragon all season.

Osasuna's home was a cauldron of noise for the visit of Villarreal and their victory celebrated as if they had won the league itself.

In glorious San Sebastian, another full house saw Real Sociedad and Getafe relieved to share a draw - and both stay up.

The tears were saved for La Coruna. Many Spaniards were sad that such a great name of Spanish football will be playing in the second tier for the first time in two decades, but they were mourning what Deportivo once were and not what they have become.

To compare the current team with the great Super Depor sides which regularly challenged for titles is to compare a classic album with a lame follow-up.

Financially, the Galicians can no longer attract the brilliant players of yore. Their average gates have tumbled to 17,000, little over half what they were a decade ago, but Depor still had a sufficient playing budget to compete for a European spot, a budget higher than Espanyol, who finished eighth.

Unfortunately, they did not have a youth system which comes close to Espanyol's and they did not score anywhere near enough goals - just 32 in 38 games, the division's lowest.

Depor's defence was tighter than Atletico Madrid's who finished fifth, but that was not enough. Miguel Angel Lotina had led his side to three top-10 finishes, but his team started this season without a win in their first eight games and they failed to score in eight of their final 13 league matches.

At the other end of the table, with Barca champions and Real runners-up, the two other Champions League spots went to Valencia and Villarreal.

Atletico won six of their last nine games to finish fifth and they will be joined in the Europa League (which they won in 2010) by Athletic Bilbao, a fine achievement for the club considering the Basque-only restrictions they put on which players they use.

Sevilla missed out on goal difference as they finished outside the top six for the first time since 2003. A dreadful run in November and December left them chasing, but at least they avoided the relegation fight like so many others.

Game of the season

There can only be one: Barca 5 Real Madrid 0. The November clasico was supposed to see Jose Mourinho’s Real side finally challenging Catalan hegemony. They were slaughtered for 90 minutes.

Teams of the season

GK: David De Gea (Atletico)
RB: Dani Alves (Barcelona)
CB: Diego Colotto (Deportivo)
CB: Andoni Iraola (Athletic)
LB: Marcelo (Real Madrid)
CM: Xavi (Barcelona)
RM: Santi Cazorla (Villarreal)
LM: Andres Iniesta (Barca)
CF: Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal)
LW: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
RW: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real)

Goal of the season

Goals cannot be mentioned without highlighting Ronaldo’s 40-goal record league haul for a season in Spain. Eleven in his final four matches saw him move clear of Lionel Messi and gave the Madrid press something to celebrate.

Top scorers
Cristiano Ronaldo, Real 40
Lionel Messi, Barcelona 31
Alvaro Negredo, Sevilla 22
Sergio Aguero, Athletico 20
Giuseppe Rossi, Villarreal 18
David Villa, Barcleona 18
Fernando Llorente, Bilbao 18

Flops of the season

• Kaka. Injuries restricted the once-brilliant Brazilian to just 11 league starts for Madrid and far too much time on the bench.
• Sevilla. Elimination in a Champions League qualifier stunned, but their league season was worse. Five straight league defeats mid-season is not what’s expected of a team used to top four finishes.
• Diego Forlan. Superb last season for Atletico Madrid and then in the World Cup for his country, the Uruguayan argued with his coach and scored just eight league goals.

sports@thenational.ae