Getafe fifth in La Liga standings
Getafe are fending off fellow Madrid club for a Champions League spot. Rodrigo Jimenez/EPA. 

There are some clubs, and some places, befitting of the Champions League and all that comes with European club soccer’s most prestigious competition. Getafe and their Coliseum stadium are not, it’s fair to say, one of them. And yet it’s entirely possible that the famous anthem will be playing at a venue so suburban it’s squeezed between a KFC drive-thru and a supermarket.

When asked to picture soccer in Madrid, few would envisage Getafe. Maybe not even Getafe fans–this is a club that named its home stadium, Coliseum Alfonso Perez, after a former Real Madrid player who never even played for Getafe. To describe them as the little brother to Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid would be to overstate their standing in the city’s sporting family tree.

Now, though, Getafe have crashed the family party. As things stand, with the 2019/20 La Liga season set to restart this week after a three-month hiatus due to the global coronavirus pandemic, goal difference is the only thing keeping Los Azulones from a place in the top four. A few more wins between now and the end of July, when La Liga hopes to have completed its campaign, and the club founded only in 1983 will be in the Champions League for the first time.

Jose Bordalas’ side found themselves in a similar situation last season, ultimately coming within a single match of finishing in La Liga’s top four. At the time, Getafe’s success was widely seen to be a fluke. A Leicester City-esque run. That notion, however, has been emphatically disproven by another sustained challenge for a Champions League spot this season.

Getafe's tactics are a departure in La Liga

Getafe aren’t exactly a typical Champions League club and Bordalas isn’t a typical Spanish soccer coach. While the country has set the zeitgeist for a generation through its use of ‘Tiki-Taka,’ most notably during Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Barcelona, Getafe go directly against the grain of that national and cultural identity.

Bordalas is no long ball merchant, nor is he a Spanish Sam Allardyce, but his team plays a conservative brand of the game. Getafe are well drilled and well organised. They are competitive against everyone–see how Barcelona had to hang on for a 2-1 win against them at the Camp Nou in February–and boast one of the best defences in La Liga right now.

The team in the afueras of Madrid are currently fourth in La Liga in goals-against per game, fifth in tackles, and first in the number of pressures against an offensive opponent, per FBRef. Goalkeeper David Soria has also kept the ball out of the net more than expected, saving the equivalent of three surefire goals this season–good for third in the league–and keep his team fighting for the top tier of European qualification.

A compelling fight for fourth

While the title race between Real and Barcelona is sure to be dramatic, fans shouldn't overlook the fight for fourth place. That the race for the final Champions League place in La Liga is currently a dead-locked contest between Getafe and Real Sociedad adds another layer of intrigue to what has already been a compelling campaign. These are two sides that depict either end of the Spanish soccer spectrum, with Sociedad the most exhilarating, entertaining outfit in the division at this moment.

While the Anoeta faithful has been treated to the sight of Martin Odegaard, Alexander Isak, Mikel Oyarzabal et al’s youthful exuberance this season, Getafe fans have grown to love veterans like Jaime Mata, Damian Suarez and Jorge Molina, who last season became the oldest player to reach 10 goals in a single La Liga season since Ferenc Puskas.

Perhaps more surprising is that Getafe are sitting one point above Madrid neighbor Atlético. And although Diego Simeone's side certainly cannot be discounted just yet, Atlético Madrid's form in La Liga thus far certainly calls into question whether El Cholo's squad is up for the task. If Getafe manage to usurp their cross-city rivals, it will be the second time in their history, with 2005-06 and 2009-10 the only two years in which El Geta pulled off the leap-frog.

The freshest inter-Madrid rivalry will come to a head in the second-to-last week of La Liga, when Atlético take the Cercanía down to Coliseum Alfonso Perez in a match that could ultimately decide UCL qualification.

Getting more from less

Getafe's squad is worth a fraction of the teams around them in the table, with their playing budget–at an estimated €40 million per season–the sixth smallest in all of La Liga. For context, Barcelona’s budget for the 2018/19 season was reportedly around €630 million. Real Madrid’s was over €560 million while Atletico Madrid’s was just short of €300 million.

Getafe have proven what can be done with shrewd recruitment and good coaching. Bordalas is a maximiser of talent, taking a squad of Spanish soccer journeymen, supplemented by the odd loan addition, and turning them into a highly effective team unit capable of competing at the very top of the national game.

The hosting of top level European soccer won’t be an entirely novel experience for the Coliseum should the Champions League anthem end up playing over the loud speakers there next season. Getafe made a run to the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup back in 2008 where they were edged out on away goals by Bayern Munich.

The very next season, Getafe only just avoided relegation, staying up on goal difference. Their time at the top, when the Coliseum’s less than luxurious surroundings welcomed true giants of the game, was fleeting. Normal service soon resumed with Getafe finishing in the bottom half of La Liga six out of the next eight seasons before they were finally relegated in 2016. What has happened since feels more permanent. Even if they miss out on Champions League qualification again this season, there’s a good chance they’ll be back to give it another shot.