Two weeks back, Barca looked well on course to winning their second consecutive treble. Things change quickly and Barcelona have since been under severe pressure from their Madrid rivals. The Catalan side crashed out of the Champions League and lost three consecutive league games for the first time since 2003.
Both Atletico and Real Madrid took advantage of Barca’s recent dip in form to set up an enthralling end to the season in Spain.
At the moment, Barcelona sit on top of the table with 79 points, same as Atletico Madrid. The Catalans however, have a much superior goal difference (67, against Atletico’s 42). Real Madrid sit in the third place with 78 points and a goal difference of 71.
Barcelona overcame their terrible run of form with an extremely impressive 8-0 victory over Deportivo. Having seen a nine-point lead at the top vanish in just three weeks, Luis Enrique’s men couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and they managed to cope with the pressure, especially considering their form, admirably.
The Madrid teams are in emphatic form at the moment. Diego Simeone’s men have won eight of their last nine games. They also have the big psychological advantage, having knocked Barca out of the Champions League recently.
Real Madrid currently find themselves in a unbeatable run with eight league wins in a row. They have scored 30 goals in the process. The heroic Champions League comeback against Wolfsburg has clearly boosted the morale of the team and it’s fans and Zinedine Zidane’s men have a shot at both the trophies, something that couldn’t have been envisioned at the turn of the year.
Barcelona have the easiest fixtures in the locker right now. Deportivo, in fact, were their highest placed opponent and represented the toughest game on paper. The Catalans crushed them 8-0. Next up is 17th placed Sporting Gijon at home, followed by 12th placed Real Betis away. This is followed by the derby game against Espanyol, who sit in 15th place, at Camp Nou, a game that could be tricky simply because of the emotions involved. Enrique’s side end the season against 18th placed Granada away.
Barca also have the advantage of not playing in the Champions League, where both their rivals are still involved. Not playing those two extra games will relieve the team of the fatigue their rivals could be feeling.
For Atletico, things are more difficult. They host 9th placed Malaga at Vicente Calderon next but the tough test comes in the Champions League where they then take on the might of Bayern Munich. After that, Simeone’s side has easy games against Rayo Vallecano and Levante. They end their season against Celta Vigo, a side that has done very well this season. This is certainly not an easy run-in, but they have the quality and the experience in the recent past to get past the finishing line.
They also have a reply to Barcelona’s lethal trio of Suarez, Messi and Neymar in Torres, Griezmann and Koke. Torres needs to especially be mentioned. The former Liverpool player has the best goalscoring ratio of any Spaniard in 2016 and has now scored for five games in a row for the first time in his career. This kind of form at this stage of the season is incredibly good for the team.
Real Madrid face trips to city neighbours Rayo Vallecano and then Real Sociedad, which will be sandwiching their Champions League semi-final ties against Manchester City. They then have to host Valencia at home, and end their season against the recently thrashed Deportivo. It’s a tough run-in for Zinedine Zidane’s men, especially the games against Sociedad and Valencia.
Considering their recent form and the manner of victories, it’s entirely possible that Real Madrid are playing much better than any team in La Liga. Their run-in might be difficult but they have enough talent and the togetherness which evaded them initially, to come out as the (surprise) winners.
Three teams, three and a half weeks, four games and a solitary point between them. There is no margin for error. Permutation and combination is unnecessary as it simply boils down to winning and losing. All three teams need to win every game; no other result is acceptable.