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Best of the rest

Our Spanish expert completes his review of the Spanish season

Guillem Balague - Guillem Balague Posted 16th May 2012 view comments

Guillem Balague has brought you the inside track on La Liga all season long here on Sky Sports.

And as the Spanish sun sets on another season he's taking a look back on what he's learned and what the future may hold.

Hopefully you've already read his verdict on contrasting campaigns for both Real Madrid and Barcelona - but what about the best of the rest?

Athletic Bilbao: delighted us this season

Athletic Bilbao: delighted us this season

Read on for Guillem's take on some of the other stories of the Spanish season...

MALAGA

I suppose that it would be easy to say that, considering the level of investment, Malaga have achieved more or less what they set out to achieve and finished where we might have expected.

After all, in a league where so many clubs are struggling financially, perhaps a finish in the top four really ought to be the minimum target for a team that spent more than most in the division last summer (€60million) to bring in nine players.

In the last couple of months, the manager, Manuel Pellegini, privately set Champions League qualification as the target for his squad - and they delivered - so credit where it is due.

We should not underestimate how hard it is to hit an objective in football, not when there are 19 other clubs all aiming for their own and as far as Malaga are concerned, they are steadily ticking off the boxes on their five-year plan.

How often have we heard that a club has a five-year project before? But unlike others, Malaga are looking ahead to the next phase that involves becoming more self-sufficient, developing their own talent and establishing a world-class training and academy facility - despite the fact that question marks remain over the fluidity of the relationship between the club and owners.

The talent of players like Cazorla and Toulalan has got them there this season and it's great to see Isco starting to live up to his promise as one of the stars of his generation; and if they can sort out a rather unpredictable defence, they can aim just as high next season.

LEVANTE

If you have the chance, check out a video or pictures of the Levante celebrations after the final game: you'd think they'd just won the World Cup.

But then, it's all relative and in their own way - a club that spent around €400,000 on players in four seasons, and whose highest earner takes home less in a year than Messi does every two weeks - has possibly achieved something just as inspirational in qualifying for the Europa League.

Some might sneer at the sight of a manager dancing in a fountain and the players cracking open the champagne after finishing sixth, but this was a tremendous achievement for a club that provides the competition with a valuable lesson in learning to manage with a limited budget and maximising your resources. Well done Levante.

If there is one blemish on their season, it is the way the club managed the Kone contractual situation and his supposed injury (he hasn't played the last three games so he wouldn't score his 18th goal of the season which would have taken him back to Sevilla instead of becoming a free agent).

VALENCIA

Once again, for the third time in a row, they have won what is known in Spain as the 'other Liga' - in other words, in finishing third, they have won a 'virtual' form of the competition without the big two of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

That is an achievement in itself - and if there is one thing that every club strives for, it is consistency.

Another achievement for Unai Emery is the fact that, despite not winning any 'actual' silverware, the supporters have not chanted "Emery go home". That may seem unremarkable, considering that Valencia have done as well - or better - than could be expected; but we are talking about a fanbase that is notoriously demanding.

I'm torn between thinking that having unrealistic expectations is a bad thing, or whether it could be a blessing for Valencia because it forces the team to maximise their potential. On the plus side it has been a fantastic season for Roberto Soldado; while the major negative comes in the form of that awful injury that ended Canales' season.

ZARAGOZA

There is an awful lot to be said about the fact that Zaragoza managed to pull off such an unbelievable recovery in the final stages of the season.

Of their 12 wins in the entire campaign, six of those came in their final 10 games - and the board deserve some credit for the fact that they won four of their last five, managing to avoid the drop on the final day by some kind of miracle.

Credit to Manolo Jimenez too: his carrot and stick approach worked . Publicly saying that he was ashamed of his team after the 5-1 hammering at the hands of Malaga early in his tenure could have backfired spectacularly, but it clearly saw an improvement in his team's performance in the remaining games of the season.

VILLARREAL

What can we say about the demise of a team that has won so many admirers and plaudits over the past few years?

There was a feeling of sadness throughout the Spanish game as a team that has been living something of a fairytale and inspiring others with lessons of how things could - and should - be done, finally got it so badly wrong.

Why did they go down? Well, injuries to key players like Rossi and Nilmar clearly didn't help; but neither did the hiring and firing of three managers in a season, nor did the abandoning of their defining footballing principles.

Whatever way you look at it - if teams like Levante provide us with an example of getting the best out of a squad - then Villarreal have provided this years abject lesson in how to waste what you have.

This is by no means a squad of players that should be getting relegated. Nevertheless, it's not all doom and gloom; they have their finances in order and should be able to survive the shock of relegation to come back fighting.

Hopefully, they won't be gone from our screens on Sky Sports for too long.

ATLETICO MADRID

They will be devastated to have missed out on the prize of Champions League football, but at least Atletico Madrid can satisfy themselves with another crack at the Europa League and the knowledge that they have finished the season, more or less, where they should have for a club of their stature.

Unfortunately, there are clouds on the horizon as, once again, key players could be leaving.

Star of the season, Falcao, could be off (in fact the club started talking about the difficulty of keeping him as soon as the final was finished, which smells of a club putting its star up for sale) and as his father admitted after that game - whether he stays or not, it's up to the club.

The fact that not one of the 11 players who started the Europa League final featured in their previous Europa final in 2010 suggests that the club are in a permanent state of transition and it remains to be seen whether or not they're capable of defining a philosophy and building something that endures.

ATHLETIC BILBAO

The manager, Marcelo Bielsa must surely have been our personality of the season on Sky Sports' Spanish football coverage. What a character.

We've been delighted by his antics and stories about his supposed 'craziness' on Revisa on a weekly basis; but he is living proof that there is a fine line between genius and madness - and his masterly understanding of the game of football has been a real blessing to our enjoyment of La Liga this season.

Let's hope, as everyone in Bilbao also does, that he renews his contract for next season. His team has thrilled us at times this year and never more so than in the cup competitions, where there is still a chance that they could finish the season with some silverware.

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