Four teams, three relegation places, one kick-off time. It is the sort of climax to a season that the governing bodies would have paid good money for in August, safe in the knowledge that matters at the top end of the table would be contested by just two.
Mallorca, Celta, Zaragoza and Deportivo will battle for their place in Primera on Saturday with only the latter’s fate entirely in its own hands. Fernando Vázquez’s side faces a simple bit of arithmetic: if it wins, it stays up. Unfortunately for Vázquez, Depor’s third coach of the season, the opposition is Real Sociedad, one of the few teams outside the relegation dogfight with any tangible reward for the season still in play. Having spent nine weeks in fourth place, Philippe Montanier’s side was knocked into fifth last week by Valencia and requires a win on the final day of the season — and Los Che not to pick up three points — to reach the promised land of Champions League competition next season.
Valencia, which needs Champions League bounty to keep its rickety financial ship afloat, travels to Sevilla, which depending on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)’s ruling on whether Rayo Vallecano and Málaga can contest the Europa League in 2013-14, may still sneak into the reckoning from the reaches of ninth place. Getafe and Levante are lurking with intent below Sevilla, ready to capitalize on a slip-up should the CAS wield Uefa’s ax. Getafe travels to Granada, while Levante hosts Betis, which requires a single point to make sure of qualification.
Mallorca’s situation is about as dire as can be and the bookmakers have turned undertaker in the odds of the Balearic club playing in Primera next season. Gregorio Manzano’s side has to win at home against Valladolid, and hope that Depor loses and neither Celta nor Zaragoza wins.
“We mustn’t forget that everything depends on us beating Valladolid,” said the veteran coach. “In soccer you can’t take anyone’s dreams away and while there is still the smallest possibility we will fight to the end. Sometimes unfathomable things happen.”
Zaragoza’s fate is equally finely balanced. If it loses, it’s adiós to Primera. A point will only suffice if both Celta and Depor lose and Mallorca doesn’t win. And even if Manolo Jiménez’s side is victorious, it will still go down if Celta and Depor win. Earlier in the season the visit of Atlético would have bade ill, but the colchoneros have taken their feet off the gas after winning the cup and should be docile enough for Zaragoza to put them to bed. The probable absence of Monaco-bound Falcao will certainly help the home side’s cause.
Celta needs to win against Espanyol to stay up because of its head-to-head results against Zaragoza and Deportivo if all three sides end up on 35 points. In that scenario, despite Celta having the best (or least bad) goal difference of minus 16, Depor would survive due to its tally of 10 goals in the six games between the three, in which Celta and Zaragoza bagged five and eight respectively.