This coming weekend in La Liga is one of the biggest ever in the Spanish top flight with four teams with real ambitions to win this season’s title.
On Saturday afternoon, Barcelona – who currently sit third in the table, with 74 points – will lead the league, at least temporarily, if they beat current league leaders Atletico Madrid (76 points) in the league. Camp Nou.
If the Catalan giants win or draw, it would give Real Madrid the opportunity to climb to the top of the table the following evening; Zinedine Zidane’s side also have 74 points, but with superior head-to-head records at both Barca and Atletico.
The problem for Los Blancos is that they face Sevilla, which is also in the title picture. The Andalusian team have 70 points but will face Athletic Club Bilbao on Monday night in their game in hand.
Sevilla – which have not been crowned Spanish champions since 1946 – remain strong underdogs for the title, but they are the form team in the division, dropping just two points from their last eight matches, winning each of their last five and seeing their title chances drop. from 100/1 to 12/1 during the last fortnight.
The title race was transformed by Atleti’s stammering form in the second half of the campaign – Los Rojiblancos took a double-digit lead at the top of the table, while Barcelona suffered a shocking home loss to Granada on the week last and Madrid lost its importance. point to Getafe and Real Betis in recent weeks.
This is what the run-in looks like for all clubs.
Diego Simeone’s side are hoping to clinch their first title since 2014 and, although they remain at the top of the table, they are the least fit of the top four.
After racking up an incredible 50 points in their first 19 games, they have stuttered ever since – with just 26 points in the next 15 outings.
They suffered recent defeats at Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao, and drew Real Betis, as they also had a huge share of fortune in 1-0 wins over struggling pair Alaves and Real Valladolid – who both rejected late penalties.
Their next outing – away to Barcelona – could prove crucial to their title hopes before continuing it with successive home games against Real Sociedad (who are fifth in the table) and Osasuna, who have not much to play in the last few weeks.
Atleti ends his campaign with a trip to Real Valladolid, which currently occupy a place and a point above the division’s drop zone.
Los Blancos have the longest unbeaten streak of any team in Spain – they haven’t lost any of their last 19 games in all competitions, dating back to the January loss to Levante.
They recently stumbled on scoreless draws against Getafe and Real Betis, but know that if they win their remaining four games – and Atleti fail to win at Barcelona – they will retain their title.
Saturday’s 2-0 win over Osasuna was sandwiched between their two Champions League semi-finals against Chelsea, with Zidane’s side eyeing a remarkable brace.
This may prove to be a distraction for Madrid, who have been ravaged by injuries this season with both right-backs – Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez – ruled out for the remainder of the campaign, with several others injured in recent months.
Madrid have a delicate meeting; Sunday’s clash against Sevilla is followed by difficult journeys against first-half teams Granada and Athletic Bilbao, before finalizing their campaign against Villarreal. The yellow submarine can of course have a Europa League final a few days later – but they have to see Arsenal in the semi-finals first.
In December, Ronald Koeman’s side languished in the lower half of La Liga, but a remarkable run of form saw them become title challengers.
A 51-point streak in 19 games put them firmly in the mix for the crown – as they’ve also won the Copa del Rey this season – but a loss in last month’s Clasico to Real Madrid and a shock loss at home against Granada last week slightly derailed their progress.
Their 80 league goals are by far the highest in the division (next is Atletico out of 61), but they’ve built an undesirable reputation for underperforming in big games – losing all three matches to the two giants Madrid and also enduring a disappointing Champions League campaign. .
Last week’s loss to Granada – with a 1-0 halftime lead as the visitors won at Camp Nou for the first time in their history – was another example of the Blaugrana falling when the pressure is on. strong.
Sunday’s 3-2 win in Valencia was a nervous encounter, but kept them as a top title contender; despite a missed penalty, Lionel Messi scored twice and Antoine Griezmann was also on target in a game where all five goals were scored in a thrilling second half.
With Messi – 36 goals and 11 assists so far this season, despite being without a contract this summer – in their squad they cannot be written off as a major contender, but if they fail to beat Atletico this next weekend, their fate will be given the fact that the two Madrid clubs lose points in their last matches.
Barcelona are also closing the campaign with tough matches; they travel to Levante – where they have lost three of their last four visits – before welcoming Celta Vigo – another appalling side for the Blaugrana – and ending the campaign at Eibar, who are fighting for their lives at the foot of the table .
The first nine days of March had seemed to end Sevilla’s season: they lost the Copa del Rey semi-final in extra time to Barcelona (blowing a 2-0 advantage), they were eliminated 5-4 on aggregate by Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and they lost 2-1 to struggling Elche in La Liga.
It has even been suggested that their place in the top four could be threatened, so it is telling that they secured their place in that top group with five games of the season remaining – such was the downfall to Real Sociedad at the fifth place.
Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou – nicknamed Bono – scored a remarkable equalizer in the fifth minute of extra time to save a draw at Real Valladolid on March 20, while Sevilla have won all seven of the league games since that loss at Elche.
That run included victories over city rivals Real Betis, over league leaders Atletico Madrid, return away wins at Celta Vigo and Real Sociedad, before beating Levante and Granada – this last after being asked to return to the field by the referee after he had blown full time.
It has been a series of games full of non-stop drama, but one that has elevated the team into unlikely title contenders – if they can beat Athletic Bilbao on Monday night, they will be just three points off the top of the league.
Of course, next week’s trip to Real Madrid will be crucial – a win, paired with Barca’s encounter with Atleti, would truly put them in a position where they could smell the title, but a loss could effectively end their dreams. .
It’s also a tough clash after this trip to the Spanish capital, with home games against Valencia and Alaves either side of a banana peel visit to Villarreal – who are currently in sixth place.
Such is the narrowness of the standings, the dynamics of the race and remaining matches, it is almost impossible to make a call with anything approaching confidence.
Atletico Madrid are the team that have lost any noticeable momentum and although they remain at the top of the table and have a relatively smooth run after their trip to Camp Nou, they are currently playing with the slightest conviction.
If Simeone’s side do not win at Camp Nou then Real Madrid will retain the title – but they have a tough race, have the distraction of the Champions League and a side which, as Zidane admits, are in their hands. physical limitations – tired and decimated by injuries.
Barcelona may feel like they have already missed their great opportunity due to this loss to Granada; this is no longer in their own hands and nothing more than a home win over Atleti this weekend will leave them in search of snookers.
Sevilla remain the away bet and while a title may simply slip away from them, don’t be surprised if they end up jumping at least one of the three teams above them in the standings.
Every point now counts in what promises to be must-see weeks.