Drama of the drop will wring strugglers dry

Barça poised to celebrate Liga title as Real Madrid faces Málaga in midweek clash

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates a goal against Real Betis during their match at Camp Nou stadium on Sunday.
Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates a goal against Real Betis during their match at Camp Nou stadium on Sunday.ALBERT GEA / REUTERS

With just four games left in the season, much has already been more or less decided in Primera División. Barcelona's Leo Messi-inspired win over Betis leaves the Catalan club 11 points clear of Real Madrid with 12 to play for.

Should Real fail to win at home to Málaga on Wednesday (9.30pm, Canal+ Liga/GolT), in a match brought forward due to next week’s King’s Cup final, Barcelona will be crowned champion.

Madrid, having spent much of the season behind Atlético, is now eight points clear of its city rival. The red-and-whites are 11 points clear of fourth-placed Real Sociedad, with Valencia and Málaga, which is likely to be banned from Europe next season anyway, in pursuit of the last Champions League spot.

It is at the bottom that the real drama is unfolding. Seven clubs have yet to obtain 40 points, long the accepted benchmark for survival in a soccer league. Mallorca hasn't even racked up 30 so far and duly props up the division, but any side from Athletic in 14th downward could feasibly find itself on the trapdoor when the spring is released on the final day. Nine points separate Mallorca and the Basques and form is no guarantee of status at the business end of the league: Deportivo has gone on a run of four wins and three ties yet still finds itself occupying the relegation zone.

Zaragoza, which looked buried a couple of weeks ago after its longest victory drought since World War II, has since won two on the bounce and scored six in the process — escapology statistics considering The Wasps' previous lack of sting had reaped just 29 in the 32 preceding games.

Celta, too, has recovered from a chastening series of bad results — with a stirring 2-2 tie against Barcelona sandwiched in — to win two of its last three.

These teams have spent the past few weeks swapping positions at the bottom of the table, while Osasuna has thus far kept its head above the turbulent waters of the relegation zone since it navigated its way out in week 21. But a run of five games without a win culminated in a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Valencia at the weekend. The dejection on the field was palpable and the Navarrese side will have to fall back on its home form to carry out its annual escape from the mire.

Even Athletic, one of only three teams in the country never to have tasted the bitter pill of relegation, is not completely safe on 38 points. Its last outing was a 1-1 tie against Celta and its next two matches are against Mallorca and Zaragoza, teams with plenty to play for. Celta faces two tricky ties in the last four game days against Betis and Atlético, as does Mallorca. Osasuna needs to get something out of its next two games: Sevilla visits the Reyno de Navarra on the penultimate weekend before a trip to the Bernabéu wraps things up.