THE RACE FOR LA LIGA HEATS UP
With the latest edition of El Clasico taking place in Madrid this Saturday, its outcome will have ramifications for this season’s La Liga title race and one that suddenly has three entrants vying for pole position.
Because for most of the season, it has looked as if Diego Simeone would lead Atletico Madrid to a repeat of their 2014 La Liga glory and in doing so, disrupt the usual duopoly that is found within Spanish football.
However, any form of procession for the red and white half of Madrid has long since dissipated and although Simeone’s men still straddle the top spot at present, their recent form has suggested that nerves are beginning to kick in.
Before the start of Week 30, Atletico find themselves just a point clear of Barcelona in second and three clear of crosstown rivals Real, while the Wanda Metropolitano oufit will hope that their two nearest rivals can subsequently take points off each other this weekend.
Something that is not outside the realm of possibility, as there is every chance that the two teams competing in El Clasico cancel each other out and hand the title advantage back to Atletico Madrid instead.
Of course, with such a high-profile fixture taking place, it also doubles up as a ‘six-pointer’ in the title race and because of these high stakes, both Zinedine Zidane and Ronald Koeman know that a draw will not do.
While that is a motto that Barcelona have been seemingly operating with in recent times, as the Catalan club have won their last six league outings and more importantly, have not lost any of their last 19.
Such is the length of their unbeaten run, that it is this which has managed to reel Atletico Madrid in and if this is to be the last ever El Clasico for Lionel Messi and his last season at the Camp Nou, then this championship could end up being his greatest success of all.
When you consider that this is a club that navigated some incredibly choppy waters at the start of the campaign – none more so than because of the transfer talk regarding Messi, nobody gave Barcelona a hope of winning the league this season.
Especially after such a poor start to Ronald Koeman’s reign as Barcelona manager and there were times when some quarters, even asked if the former Dutch international was the right man for the job,
However, Koeman and his players have never given up hope and step by step, they have managed to win when it really matters. Wins that have then subsequently eroded the points buffer between themselves and Atletico.
Due to results panning out as they did last weekend, it now also means that the race for La Liga is now in Barcelona’s hands and if they can get the better of both Madrid clubs in the next month, then they will be the favourites to land, what at one point looked an incredibly unlikely Spanish league title.