A Champions League qualification ‘Final Four’ as LaLiga Santander returns

While the last LaLiga Santander matchday, the one held just before the international break, featured a duel between the top two in the standings, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, the return of club football now sees the teams sitting third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the standings face off amongst each other across two matches that should be electric.

Atlético de Madrid, Real Betis, Real Sociedad and Villarreal CF will face off in a kind of ‘Final Four’ in the race for the European qualification spots. The sides currently occupying the last two Champions League berths will meet those currently in position to qualify for the Europa League and the Conference League. These two head-to-head battles will present each club with a chance to extend or reduce the gaps at this end of the table.

These four teams have been eliminated from their respective European competitions this season, meaning qualification for continental football next year is now their sole remaining objective over the rest of this campaign. As such, this Sunday’s double-header will be key to finding out which teams will fight for a Champions League ticket and which clubs will have to defend their Europa League and Conference League positions in order to enter next year’s European draws.

Atlético de Madrid and Real Betis, currently third and fifth, will face off in the final match of Sunday’s slate of fixtures. Diego Simeone’s unit are on a roll in 2023, as their only game lost this calendar year was back on January 8th against FC Barcelona. They have gone 10 games without defeat since then and have been especially impressive at home, where they have beaten Athletic Club 1-0, Sevilla FC 6-1 and Valencia CF 3-0 to consolidate their position in third place in the standings.

Los Verdiblancos are six points behind the Madrid side but only three points off fourth place, so they’ll be hoping to close the gap and avenge their 2-1 defeat against Atleti when these sides met at the Estadio Benito Villamarín earlier in the season. With the pursuit of a top four finish so tight, the head-to-head records might end up being decisive if teams finish level on points, so this is another factor Manuel Pellegrini’s outfit will have to bear in mind.

Just before that match at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, fans can tune in to watch sixth-placed Villarreal CF take on fourth-placed Real Sociedad, two teams who also just fell out of this season’s European competitions. The squad coached by Quique Setién currently boasts 41 points, meaning they are seven behind the Basques and making this game one of their last chances to pull themselves back into Champions League contention. El Submarino Amarillo will be looking to return from the break with a win, which would be their fourth in five games in LaLiga Santander. They recently drew another direct duel against Real Betis, before achieving a big 3-0 win at CA Osasuna last time out.

As for Real Sociedad, they won 1-0 against Villarreal CF earlier in the season and they beat Elche CF 2-0 in their previous match, a result that snapped a poor run of results. They’ll be keen to take another three-point haul at the Estadio de la Cerámica to build up a gap to their immediate pursuers and to move closer to their dream of returning to the Champions League for the first time since 2013.

These are two huge fixtures and the four clubs involved will be keeping an eye on the other scoreline as well as on their own. This Sunday’s results at the Estadio de la Cerámica and the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano really could make all the difference in this year’s Champions League race, an objective all coaches share. With this evening of direct duels, LaLiga Santander really will be returning in style.

MG Team

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