If the battle for Spain's Primera Liga title seems predictable, the opposite can be said of the teams likely to be involved in the relegation fight. Just 13 points have separated the bottom club and the teams in 9th or 10th position in the last two seasons, with relegations only confirmed on the final day. Real Sociedad, Levante and the wonderfully named Hercules, who play in Alicante, are the promoted teams who managed to edge Real Betis from the three promotion spots last season.
Such is the gulf in class between Spain's top two divisions, the odds are against promoted teams staying up. Tenerife and Xerez, two of the elevated teams last season, went straight back down, though not without a fight. Another win from either club would have been enough to keep them up. Zaragoza did survive, but then their relegation had been surprising for a club with an average following of 30,000. Similar can be said of Real Sociedad, who will have a playing budget of ?36 million (Dh168m) this season, the 10th highest in the league.
The key is in the budgets. When Sporting Gijon won promotion in 2008, they did so with an annual playing budget of ?1.8m. They spent ?12m the following season and have budgeted for ?26m this. Hercules have budgeted for an astonishing ?40m against ?13m last season, but there is more than a whiff of conspiracy about their finances and the way they were promoted, with serious allegations that they bought key games.
Which leaves Levante and their ?19m total budget as the lowest payers with just about enough to cover Barcelona's two best paid players, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Almeria have the second smallest budget, the lowest average crowds of just 10,000 and they won just one of their last 10 games last season as they finished in 13th. The outlook does not look good for them. Other clubs like Racing Santander and Deportivo La Coruna have slashed their budgets, while nobody quite knows what to expect of Mallorca. Among the relegation favourites last season, they finished 5th - though they have been prevented in playing in the Europa League by Uefa because they failed to pay for several of the players who helped them reach those heights.
Malaga, the team who managed to avoid the trap door by finishing 17th, have been taken over by Qatari investors who have overseen seven new players, some on a transfer fee like Sandro Silva, the Brazilian midfielder. Such are the financial constraints on the bottom clubs, a mere paid for transfer makes them unusual. firstname.lastname@example.org