Top 4: Can Anyone Challenge Real Madrid and Barça Next Season?

Tim Stannard@laligalocaContributor IMay 7, 2013

The campaign to come in La Liga is set to be an unforgettable classic—a real doozy that will be retold countless times to enraptured grandchildren. “Can you imagine it, little ones? Fifteen teams all battling for the title, in a race that went down to the last second. I’ll bet all your hover boards, we’ll never see the likes of it again!” 

That’s a massive cookie jar of lies, of course. It’s a saddle bag of hokum and humbug. Next season in Spain will be like all the others for the past five years—a direct battle between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top, with the other suckers left far, far behind, scrambling for a shot at Europe.  

Although much chin-stroking will be performed over the summer analyzing potential changes of coach, tweaks in tactics and improvements in playing staff to Barcelona and Real Madrid, predicting a winner has always been a largely pointless task. Too many unknown variables are involved.

The past two title chases have been won by the side that was marginally more motivated than the other. Dressing a couple of puppies in Barça and Real Madrid kits and seeing which will poop first is as good as indication as any on what will happen next.   

Looking on the bright side, though, whilst the top two might be a bit of procession, the battle for third and fourth tends to be fairly fun. Generally speaking, it is not always the best teams who finish in the two places behind Real Madrid and Barcelona, but the least incompetent of the other 18 in La Liga. Last season, Valencia parked themselves into third but in the current campaign they are battling with Real Sociedad for fourth. 

Valencia’s affairs have been a little confusing institutionally, and it’s set to be the same in the campaign to come. Nobody is entirely sure who owns the club, who is charge of the club, who will be the coach of the club and which footballers will be sold to pay off Valencia’s substantial debt. Still, should Valencia manage to conduct itself in a grown-up manner for once, there’s no reason why a return to third place can’t be achieved. 

That position is currently being held by Atletico Madrid, a club that is set for a return to Champions League football for the first time in four years. Whether the club can repeat what has been an eerily consistent campaign, free of the usual alarms and surprises under Diego Simeone, depends on whether it is possible to keep hold of Falcao up front and Thibaut Courtois in goal—a hugely talented keeper currently being loaned out by Chelsea

Last year, Málaga finished fourth after a massive spending splurge by owner Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani. Sadly, this year, the Sheikh has backtracked on his investment by swiftly selling players previously purchased and appears to be more interested in accusing UEFA of corruption and racism after the side’s Champions League exit against Borussia Dortmund, rather than communicating his plans for the club. 

Previous top-four heavyweights in La Primera are unlikely to be making a return to the big table. Sevilla are a directionless shambles these days, a side that has only won the single away game in la Liga from 16. Villarreal, who finished fourth in 2010-11, are currently top-four again. Sadly, it’s in the second division, as they managed to get themselves relegated last season. 

An awful lot concerning the side currently occupying fourth in la Liga this season, the wonderful Real Sociedad, depends on whether that position can be held with four matches left. Champions League football would bring in the income required to keep together a young, home-grown talented squad. Anything else could see the team asset-stripped by Europe’s bigger beasts. Betis are on a positive trajectory whilst Athletic Bilbao might be able to bounce back after a forgettable campaign this year. 

However, making predictions in La Liga is a tough business as normal football logic does not apply. Few teams have any kind of plan or strategy in place, and all but the top two are constantly having to sell their best players to make ends meet. So, it seems that a few more puppies dressed in football kits are going to be required for a serious forecast to be made.