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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2007, 12:00am

In Spain's Primera Liga, one team have the joint-highest number of points, the best goal difference, the highest number of goals, the fewest goals conceded, and the fewest defeats. In any other major league, that record would guarantee the championship. Yet in Spain this season that team, Barcelona, almost certainly won't win the title.

Real Madrid are 1/10 to clinch their first title since 2003 with a home win over Mallorca which would keep them ahead of Barcelona on head-to-head record even if the current champions win their final game at bottom club Gimnastic.

Spain is the only major country that uses the head-to-head record to separate teams that finish level on points. It is a perverse rule, and only in Spain would Real Madrid be crowned champions instead of Barcelona. There are compelling reasons to believe that Barcelona remain the best side in Spain and that they will be unlucky runners-up, even if at times they have been the architects of their own downfall.

Only six teams have beaten Barcelona this season (compared with eight defeats for Real Madrid) - five of those defeats were against current top-six sides, with the other coming against local rivals Espanyol, who were good enough to reach the Uefa Cup final.

That is exceptionally high-class form, with Barcelona's main problem being their tendency to draw crucial games - the most important was the 3-3 at home to Real that sealed their fate on the head-to-head record after a 2-0 away defeat, but as crucial have been goals conceded in recent home draws against Betis and Espanyol.

Barcelona overall have been below the standard set in their past two title-winning campaigns, but they have performed very well considering the disruption caused by key injuries, especially in attack.

Most crucial of all has been coach Frank Rijkaard's restricted opportunity to select his first-choice front three of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. When all three have started this season Barcelona have gained an average of 2.25 points per game; when they haven't all been available, Barca's average has fallen to 1.84. The killer stat for Barca is that the trio have started only 12 games together this season - if they could have started even half of Barca's games, and maintained their points average, Barca would already have surpassed their own 2004-05 record (for a 38-game season) of 84 points and won the title comfortably.

All that adds up to a rather fortunate title opportunity for Real. While they should be applauded for making the most of it by raising their game on the run-in, it is clear that circumstances - and Spain's strange rules - have conspired against Barcelona.

As for this weekend's final games, the best bets are Sevilla and Valencia.

Sevilla face a tough task against Villarreal but have an excellent home record in big games.

Valencia are only just behind Sevilla on home form and face much weaker opponents, Real Sociedad. The difference here is that only Sociedad need to win their game, but the odds available on Valencia are attractive.

Homes: Sevilla, Valencia.