The upcoming weekend in La Liga is one of the most important events ever organized in the Spanish League with four teams with real ambitions to win the title this season.
On Saturday afternoon, Barcelona – who are currently third in the standings with 74 points – will top the league at least temporarily if they defeat current league leaders Atlético Madrid (76 points) at Camp Nou.
If the Catalan giants win or draw, this will give Real Madrid the opportunity to climb to the top of the standings the following evening; Zinedine Zidane’s side currently have 74 points, but with an outstanding record against Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
The problem for Los Blancos is that they face Seville, who are also in the title photo. The Andalusian side have 70 points, but face Athletic Bilbao on Monday night in their postponed match.
Seville – who have not been crowned champions of Spain since 1946 – remain out of competition for the title, but are a resounding side in the division, losing just two points from their last eight matches, winning in their last five matches and seeing the odds of winning the title dwindle. From 1/100 to 1/12 in the past two weeks.
The title race shifted due to a run-down to Atleti in the second half of the season – Los Rugiplancos edged to the top of the overall standings, while Barcelona suffered a surprise defeat at home to Granada last week and Real Madrid fell decisively. He points to Getafe and Real Betis in recent weeks.
Here’s what everyone’s second round looks like for clubs.
Diego Simeone’s team are hoping to secure their first title since 2014, and while they remain at the top of the standings, they are the lowest in the league out of the top four.
After collecting a staggering 50 points from his first 19 games, they have since faltered – with just 26 points from 15 subsequent games.
They suffered recent defeats in Seville and Athletic Bilbao, tied with Real Betis, while also having great luck in a 1–0 victory over struggling duo Alaves and Real Valladolid – who rejected late penalties.
Their next trip – away from home to Barcelona – may be pivotal to their title hopes before they follow with back-to-back matches on home soil against Real Sociedad (who are fifth in the standings) and Osasuna, who have had little to play for in recent weeks.
Athlete ended their campaign with a trip to Valladolid, which currently sits on one spot and one point above the division’s drop zone.
Los Blancos retain the longest unbeaten streak of any team in Spain – they have not lost any of their last 19 matches in all competitions, since losing in January to Levante.
They recently faltered in a goalless draw against both Getafe and Real Betis, but they know that if they win their remaining four matches – and Athlete doesn’t win at Barcelona – they will retain their title.
Saturday’s 2-0 win over Osasuna was limited to the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, with Zidane’s side looking for an impressive double.
This could be a distraction for Real Madrid, who have been devastated by injuries this season with both right-backs – Danny Carvajal and Lucas Vásquez – ruled out for the remainder of the season, with many others suffering injuries in recent months.
Madrid has a tough tour. Sunday’s match against Seville followed difficult journeys with first-half teams Granada and Athletic Bilbao, before concluding their campaign against Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine may of course have the Europa League final days later – but they need to beat Arsenal in the semifinals first.
In December, Ronald Koeman’s side were in the lower half of La Liga, but an impressive streak of performances saw them transform into a title contender.
A streak of 51 points in 19 games put them deeply flustered over the coronation – while also winning the Copa del Rey this season – but last month’s loss in El Clásico against Real Madrid and the surprise home defeat by Granada last week had little effect. Derailed their progress.
Their 80 league goals are by far the highest in the division (followed by Atletico at 61) but they have built an unwelcome reputation for poor performances in big matches – they lost all three matches against two Madrid giants and also suffered a disappointing campaign in the Champions League.
Last week’s defeat to Granada – which advanced 1-0 in the first half as the visiting team won the Camp Nou for the first time in their history – was another example of how the Blaugrana stumbled upon pressure.
Valencia’s 3-2 win on Sunday was a tense showdown but kept them the top contenders for the title. Despite missing a penalty kick, Lionel Messi scored two goals and Antoine Griezmann was also on target in a match in which all five of the goals came in the beating second half.
With Messi – 36 goals and 11 assists so far this season, despite his contract expiring this summer – in their squad, they cannot be written off as the main contender but if they fail to beat Atletico next weekend, their fate will be. Relying on losing both clubs in the closing match.
Barcelona ended the season with tough matches as well; They travel to Levante – where they have lost three of their last four visits – before hosting Celta Vigo – another Pleugrana ghost team – and end the campaign away from home in Eibar, who are fighting for their lives at the bottom of the rankings.
The first nine days of March seemed to end the Seville season: they lost the Copa del Rey semi-finals in extra time to Barcelona (they edged 2-0), and lost 5-4 on aggregate to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. The league and lost 2-1 to struggling Elche in the Spanish League.
There are even suggestions that the top four may be threatened, so it is clear that they have secured their place in that rising group with five matches of the season remaining – that was relegation to Real Sociedad in fifth place.
Goalkeeper Yassin Bono – aka Bono – scored an impressive equalizer in the fifth minute of extra time to save a draw with Real Valladolid on March 20, while Sevilla won all seven League matches since that loss to Elche.
This included victories over city rivals Real Betis, over league leaders Atlético Madrid, and a return to away victories over Celta Vigo and Real Sociedad, before defeating Levante and Granada – the latter after the referee asked to return to the pitch after. He blew the whole time.
It was a series of matches full of unstoppable drama but elevated the team to unlikely rivals for the title – if they manage to defeat Athletic Bilbao on Monday night, they will be just three points from the top of the league.
Of course, next week’s trip to Real Madrid will be pivotal – victory, along with Barcelona’s clash with Atlete, will really put them in a position where they can smell the title but defeat can effectively wipe out their dreams.
It’s a tough game after that trip to the Spanish capital as well, with local matches against Valencia and Alaves on either side of the banana skin visit to Villarreal – who currently ranks sixth.
Such is the tightness of the arrangement, the racing dynamics and the residual fixtures, it is almost impossible to make a call with anything that approaches confidence.
Atletico Madrid are the team that has lost any noticeable momentum and despite staying at the top of the standings and having a relatively nice performance after the Camp Nou trip, they are currently playing with the least amount of conviction.
If Simeone’s team does not win at Camp Nou, Real Madrid will retain the title – but they face a difficult round, they have a distraction in the Champions League and a team, as Zidane admits, in his physical limits – exhausted and exhausted from injuries.
Barcelona may feel that they’ve already missed their big chance with that defeat to Granada; It’s not in their hands anymore and anything but a home win against Athlete this weekend will leave them in need of a game of snooker.
Seville remains the outside bet, and while the title may slip through them, don’t be surprised if they end up hopping on one of the three sides that are at least as high in the ranking.
Every point counts, now in just a few weeks, that cannot be missed.