La Liga 2012: 11 Biggest Remaining Fixtures
We are now entering the final stretch in La Liga. There are now only eight matches left and not a single spot is safe.
Real Madrid is currently six points ahead of Barcelona in the title race with a Clasico still to come. Half the league is still in the hunt for European qualification and at least seven clubs will be part of the relegation battle.
With so much still to play for in April, every match is important.
Derbies, rivalries, and fights for Europe.
Here are the 11 biggest remaining fixtures in La Liga.
Levante vs. Atletico Madrid, April 8
This weekend brings our first major battle for Champions League qualification.
Both Atletico and Levante continue to hang around, fighting for a top four finish. If Atletico wins, it could fill a Europa League spot and get that much closer to fourth place. A win for Levante is crucial since it is without a win in the last two and risks losing ground to Malaga and Valencia.
This match will not decide who finishes in the Champions League spots, but it could be a deciding match when the season ends.
First round result: Atletico Madrid 3-2 Levante
Real Madrid vs. Valencia, April 8
What poor timing for Valencia.
Here is a club that has won just three of its last 18 matches and desperately needs points to stay in front of Malaga.
Standing in its path to recovery is arguably the world's best club.
With Valencia's current form, I would bet on a comfortable win for Real Madrid, but La Liga has been full of surprises this season.
With Barcelona playing a very hot, but untalented Real Zaragoza, a loss for Real would put a lot of pressure on Jose Mourinho's men to perform.
First round result: Valencia 2-3 Real Madrid
Madrid Derby, April 11
It is a derby—and that makes it huge and unpredictable.
Real Madrid will continue its difficult run with a quick turnaround against an ambitious Atletico Madrid midweek.
The first match proved to barely be a contest, but this is a very different Atletico Madrid.
Both teams will be very tired, so Real's depth will give them a greater advantage, but do not underestimate Diego Simeone's men.
Atletico is desperately fighting for Champions League play, and a win against their local rivals would be a huge motivator for the rest of the season.
First round result: Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid
El Clasico, April 22
The biggest match of any season, this one could actually put Barcelona level on points—or better.
If Real loses this, it would be a big hit to their confidence and mentality and would likely make any trophies feel less than complete.
If Real wins, it would make them the best club in the world to most fans and would give a huge advantage in the Champions League.
Regardless of the state of the title race at this time, the match will be huge and the marquee match of the season.
First round result: Real Madrid 1-3 Barcelona
Malaga vs. Valencia, April 29
As it stands today, this match would decide who finishes third in La Liga.
Chances are that this will not still be the case on the 29th, but if it is still close, expect fireworks.
Valencia is really struggling right now and Malaga is fighting hard for a top four finish. But when we talk about finishing a season, Valencia has shown to be able to win the important matches and seal a season.
Malaga's inexperience in these big matches could be its undoing.
A lot will be riding on this match, so whichever team can step up will earn European qualification.
First round result: Valencia 2-0 Malaga
Barcelona vs. Malaga, May 2
Malaga was robbed of its chance to make an immediate mark on the league when La Liga went on strike to start the season.
Now, Malaga will finally get that chance.
Whether or not they make the top four, what better way to show they are ready for the next stage than to end Barcelona's title hopes?
You can bet Manuel Pellegrini has already circled May 2nd on his calendar.
The last time they met, Lionel Messi ran wild with a hat trick. Malaga will need to find a way to neutralize the world's best player if they want any shot at victory.
First round result: Malaga 1-4 Barcelona
Sevilla Derby, May 2
One of the oldest derbies in Europe, the two differing styles of play always makes for exciting football.
Not free of controversy, this match could have league implications for each team.
Sevilla has been very disappointing all season, but has finally strung a few wins together in the last month. European qualification still looks like a long shot, but could still be fighting in May.
Betis has been in the lower half of the table basically all season and has been in and out of the relegation battle.
Both sides would love to ruin the season for their local rivals, and the timing of this derby is perfect for doing just that.
First round result: Real Betis 1-1 Sevilla
Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid, May 2
This is the third of three great matches that welcome May in La Liga.
Athletic Bilbao looks to have given up on the Champions League, but will still want a strong finish in the final weeks of the season.
Real Madrid start their very toughest run against Valencia and finish against Bilbao.
If Real can make it through this match with at least a three-point lead on Barcelona, it will likely have sealed the title.
First round result: Real Madrid 4-1 Athletic Bilbao
Zaragoza vs. Racing and Gijon vs. Betis, May 6
I am coupling these two matches since the implications and importance are the same.
Zaragoza, Racing, and Gijon have all been fighting relegation all season.
Real Betis has been in the middle and lower half consistently as well.
Zaragoza's winning streak will likely end against Barcelona, but even if it does not, the club will likely fight relegation until the very end.
With Granada facing Real Madrid and Villarreal visiting Valencia in the same week, there is a very strong chance that these matches will decide first division survival.
First round result: Racing 1-0 Zaragoza & Betis 2-0 Gijon
Barcelona Derby, May 6
The title race may be over by then, but if not, this match would decide it.
With Real Madrid closing out its season with Granada and Mallorca, chances are Barcelona will need a win against cross-town rivals and possibly by a greater margin of victory.
Espanyol may also still be in the race for European qualification and would love to prevent a fourth consecutive league title for Barcelona.
The simple fact that it is a derby would be big, but having so much on the line will make the atmosphere at Camp Nou incredible.
First round result: Espanyol 1-1 Barcelona
Atletico Madrid vs. Malaga, May 6
Regardless of standings, this should be the main event of the final month of the season.
Malaga will likely be playing for its Champions League qualification while Atletico will be aiming for Europe in some way.
Valencia will also square off against Villarreal at the same time as many other European hopefuls, so there will be plenty of action going on in the stands as results are tallied.
That means this match could decide nest season's fate for many clubs.
This match could decide the future of Malaga's progress in Europe and its ability to bring in world class players next season.
First round result: Malaga 0-0 Atletico Madrid
What are your thoughts?
Were any matches left out that you think warrant a place on this list?
Which matches are you most looking forward to as we near the end of the 2011-2012 La Liga season?
I welcome and appreciate all feedback.