How the race for Europe stands in LaLiga Santander: Girona FC on course for an unlikely first-ever European spot!

New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) There are now just five matchdays remaining in LaLiga Santander and there is still so much still to play for. Several clubs are currently taking part in the race to qualify for the 2023/24 UEFA competitions and the battle is ever so tight.

With leaders FC Barcelona, second-placed Atletico de Madrid and reigning champions Real Madrid seemingly set in stone to qualify for Europe, here’s a round-up of the other teams fighting it out to join them, from fourth-placed Real Sociedad down to ninth-placed Rayo Vallecano.

Real Sociedad (4th, 61 points)

After the top three of FC Barcelona, Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid, the team currently occupying the final Champions League spot is Real Sociedad. Under the coaching of Imanol Alguacil, La Real have come close to reaching the Champions League on a few occasions over the past few years. Returning to Europe’s top competition, which the Basque side last participated in in 2013/14, has become an objective for the club and they currently hold a comfortable advantage over Villarreal CF, thanks to the recent good performances of the likes of David Silva, Takefusa Kubo and others.

Remaining fixtures: Girona FC (H), FC Barcelona (A), UD Almeria (H), Atletico de Madrid (A), Sevilla FC (H)

Villarreal CF (5th, 54 points)

At Villarreal CF, nobody is giving up hope of making a return to the Champions League. Even though there is a seven-point gap, Villarreal CF often finish seasons well and still believe that they could make a return to the Champions League, a competition they reached the semi-finals of in 2021/22. Even if Quique Setien’s men don’t end up catching La Real for fourth, fifth place brings direct passage to the Europa League group stages and that too is a success for this club from a city of 50,000 people.

Remaining fixtures: Athletic Club (H), Girona FC (A), Cadiz CF (H), Rayo Vallecano (A), Atletico de Madrid (H)

Real Betis (6th, 52 points)

Real Betis have never before qualified for European football in three consecutive seasons, but that’s very much on the cards this campaign. Los Verdiblancos currently hold a Europa League group stage ticket as they sit in sixth place. Thanks to their 1-0 victory away at Athletic Club in the last round, in Matchday 33, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have opened up a sizable gap. That’s very impressive considering the team lost star midfielder Nabil Fekir to a season-ending injury in February.

Remaining fixtures: Rayo Vallecano (H), Sevilla FC (A), Getafe CF (H), Girona FC (A), Valencia CF (H)

Girona FC (7th, 47 points)

Because this year’s Copa del Rey was won by Real Madrid, who’ll qualify for Europe through their league position, an extra European spot has become available for whoever finishes seventh in LaLiga Santander. Girona FC currently occupy that place, which grants entry to the Conference League, and they’d make history if they hold on to it, as the Catalan club have never before qualified for Europe. After winning promotion through the LaLiga SmartBank playoffs last season, Míchel’s side have been playing some thrilling football this term, and they’re currently the fourth-top scorers in the division with 52 goals scored from 33 matches.

Remaining fixtures: Real Sociedad (A), Villarreal CF (H), RC Celta (A), Real Betis (H), CA Osasuna (A)

Athletic Club (8th, 47 points)

Athletic Club are no strangers to European football, however the Basques haven’t had to look out their passports since 2018. With Ernesto Valverde back at the helm this season, Los Leones want to qualify for Europe again and the dynamic football of brothers Inaki Williams and Nico Williams means that they have a chance. Even if they’re outside the top seven right now, Athletic Club are level on points with Girona FC and have no shortage of belief.

Remaining fixtures: Villarreal CF (A), RC Celta (H), CA Osasuna (A), Elche CF (H), Real Madrid (A)

Rayo Vallecano (9th, 46 points)

Another team that believes European qualification is possible is Rayo Vallecano. The team from the capital city have been in Europe once before, in the 2000/01 UEFA Cup, and they’re aiming for a return this year. The electric home atmosphere at Vallecas has been spurring the team on in recent weeks, such as during their 2-1 victory over FC Barcelona. If Isi Palazon and co. can keep collecting three-point hauls, Vallecas could be hosting clubs from across Europe in a few months’ time.

Remaining fixtures: Real Betis (A), RCD Espanyol (H), Real Madrid (A), Villarreal CF (H), RCD Mallorca (A)

–IANS

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