With as many as six teams still fighting relegation from La Liga on the last day of the season, we outline the (complex!) permutations.
You thought the Premier League survival scrap was tense? Well, hold on to your hats. The final day of La Liga 2022-23 looks set to turn the drama up a notch.
Only one of the three relegation spots remains undecided, with Elche and Espanyol already having their fate confirmed. But any one of six teams could take that third route back to the Segunda.
As you might expect, the list of permutations is lengthy. There’s even the potential for a scenario that sees five teams end the season tied on 41 points, at which stage a head-to-head ‘mini league’ would come into play.
That might sound like a lot of points to go down with. Not since Villarreal in 2012 has a team been relegated (excluding demotions as sanctions) from La Liga with 41+ points, though it has happened nine times in 38-game seasons.
It may not be that complicated in the end, however. In fact, for everyone involved, it’s all quite simple.
Win and you’re safe.
As It Stands
So, who’s in trouble? Real Valladolid head into the weekend occupying that last relegation spot and are a point behind Celta Vigo and Almería, the latter of who couldn’t beat Valladolid last weekend despite a dominant display in a 0-0 draw at Power Horse Stadium.
Valladolid have a 44.4% chance of being relegated, according to the Opta supercomputer, meaning they are – unsurprisingly, sitting in that 18th spot – the favourites to go down, though fans actually celebrated that draw in Almería with gusto because it meant their fate is still in their own hands.
In addition to the trio mentioned above, Valencia, Getafe and Cádiz are also in trouble. Admittedly, the prediction model gives the latter only a 1.6% chance of being relegated, but the fact they are only two points clear of Valladolid means they’re still in the firing line.
Valencia are considered the least likely of the six to go down, however, with their relegation probability just 1.5% – it’s worth noting, though, that historical results do influence the prediction model, and Los Che don’t usually struggle to the degree they have this term.
If they finish lower than 13th, it’ll be their worst final position since 1987-88 (14th), their first campaign back in La Liga following a year in the Segunda. In fact, they’ve only ever ended a top-flight season lower than 13th three times, with the other two occasions also in the 1980s. That should put their current predicament into perspective.
Nevertheless, as the predictor suggests, they should have done enough to preserve their La Liga status after that dramatic 2-2 draw with Espanyol last weekend sent the Catalans back to the second tier.
The team who’ll be looking over their shoulders the most and paying closest attention to the Valladolid score will instead be Celta. They’re the next most likely to head back to the Segunda, with the predictor rating their relegation probability as 30.5%. Of course, they’re helped slightly by the fact they cannot drop to 19th, whereas Valladolid can.
But Celta have arguably the toughest match of all…
So, although Celta aren’t technically the favourites to go down, the Galicians have statistically the smallest chance of victory among the six clubs in the mire.
They host champions Barcelona at Balaidos, a game they’re calculated to have just a 20.7% chance of winning. Celta won’t be going into the match in particularly impressive form either – they are fighting relegation after all – having not won any of their past six league outings. It’s a run that includes five defeats as well, making it their worst winless streak under a single coach in one season since February 2021 when Eduardo Coudet was in charge.
Valencia seemingly have the next toughest task. They’re due to face Real Betis at the Benito Villamarin, where they’ve won just two of their past 10 visits in La Liga. Rubén Baraja’s side have only a 25.5% likelihood of victory, the supercomputer says, but their saving grace is perhaps the fact Betis – much like Celta’s opponents, Barcelona – have nothing to play for given they can only finish sixth.
Almería go to already relegated Espanyol, who despite their situation certainly have the weapons to trouble the Andalusians. They’re considered favourites with a 41% win probability, perhaps influenced by Espanyol having two players who’ve scored 10 or more goals this season in Joselu (15) and Martin Braithwaite (10), and Almería keeping the joint-fewest clean sheets in 2022-23 (four, tied with Girona and Elche).
Cádiz will also be away to relegated opposition, though Elche’s form has picked up since their fate was confirmed, going unbeaten in their past four league games.
The game that could truly put a cat among the pigeons, however, is the one involving two of the troubled six. Real Valladolid welcome Getafe to the José Zorrilla, and as the prediction graphic shows, it’s a tough one to call. A home win (34.4%) and away win (34.5%) are virtually identical in probability, though it’s worth pointing out Los Azuolones have never won away to Valladolid in La Liga and lost to them at home earlier this season as well.
But why is this fixture especially key?
There’s a possibility the season ends with a five-way tie on 41 points. Now, it’s unlikely because it would obviously require a very particular set of results – one of which is a win for Real Valladolid, as they’re the only team who cannot finish with 41.
If the results do conspire to usher in such an ending, the five teams on 41 points would be sectioned off into their own so-called ‘mini league’ to determine their final position. In Spain, the head-to-head record (points, then head-to-head goal difference) between clubs is the first measure of tie-breaking – not outright goal difference, which is the third classifier – when more than one team amass the same number of points.
Whereas it would be a simple case of looking at the aggregate score of the fixtures between two teams if only a couple finished level on points, when there are more clubs involved it essentially becomes its own isolated table.
Whoever took the most points from games against only those also in the mini league finishes highest, and so on. In this case, Almería, Cádiz, Valencia and Getafe would join Valladolid in securing safety. Celta have taken just five points from meetings with those four, meaning they would be relegated if such a scenario was to come to fruition.
It’s been a grim season for Celta, and of all top-flight clubs, they’re the ones in the worst form heading into the weekend, with just one point from five games. But like the other five still trying to stay afloat, Celta can at least take comfort in the fact it’s in their hands. Win and nothing else will matter, and Barca have lost two of their past three matches. Champions they may be, but the beach is beckoning them.
But as noted, the chances of five teams ending the season on 41 points are tiny, therefore we have to consider the other outcomes. With so many clubs involved, obviously the full permutations are quite messy, so, for simplicity’s sake we’ll focus initially on Valladolid.
Valladolid will be safe if:
- they beat Getafe, or
- they draw and Almería lose, or
- they draw and both Almería and Celta lose. In this scenario, Celta would be relegated because they’d finish bottom of the three-team head-to-head mini league. But if only Celta were level on 40 points with Valladolid, it’d be the latter who dropped a division due to goal difference (they are tied in both head-to-head tiebreakers).
The remaining permutations will only come into play if Valladolid win. So, let’s imagine they do beat Getafe, this is what it would take for the others to be relegated…
Celta would go down if:
- they lose, or
- they draw and end up tied on 41 points with more than one other team, or
- they draw and end up tied on 41 points with any team other than Cádiz
Cádiz would be relegated if:
- they lose and Celta, Almería and Valencia all win. Cádiz would go down by virtue of their poorer goal difference in comparison to Getafe, whom they are tied with in head-to-head stakes
Valencia would be relegated if:
- they and Cádiz lose, while Celta and Almería win. This would leave Los Che bottom of a three-team mini league on 41 with Cádiz and Getafe
- they and Cádiz lose, Celta win and Almeria draw. This would leave Valencia bottom of a four-team mini-league on 41 with Almería, Cádiz and Getafe
Almería would be relegated if:
- they lose and Celta get at least a point
In this scenario we are of course assuming Getafe lose to Valladolid, so they would be relegated if:
- they are left in a three-way tie on 41 with Almería and Valencia after Celta win, or
- they are left in a three-way tie on 41 with Almería and Cádiz after Celta win, or
- Celta, Almería, Valencia and Cádiz all win
Did you follow that? We did warn that the full permutations could be complex. Either way, only Real Valladolid have the power to make things truly chaotic on matchday 38. If they manage to build a decent lead over Getafe in the first half, the final 45 minutes of La Liga 2022-23 could be utter carnage.
As neutrals, what more could you want?