With just 11 games to go in the Spanish La Liga, Real Madrid have blossomed well in time to take the lead and edge past Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the three-way title chase.
But perhaps the most shocking result this weekend was Barcelona’s loss against 17th placed Valladolid that saw them slip to the third position in the league, trailing Real Madrid by 4 points and new challengers Atletico by a single point. Barcelona were benefitted by the draw played out between Atletico and Real Madrid last weekend and were running second, trailing arch-rivals Real by a single point. However an uninspiring performance against Valladolid saw the Catalans give away their position in Spain as they now look to play catch-up towards the fag-end of the La Liga.
To say that Barcelona are going through a ‘crisis’ would not be way off the mark as the current Spanish champions succumbed to their second league loss in three games. Tata Martino has not been able to inspire Barcelona to their usual lofty standards and he faces a tough task ahead as Barcelona look to battle Manchester City in the Champions League and fight for decisive points in Spain. They face 13th placed Osasuna after their Champions League encounter against Camp Nou on Tuesday. Messi and company will benefit from playing at home on both the occasions and will be looking to for an inspirational Camp Nou to get their campaign back on track. Osasuna might prove to be a tricky fixture as the Catalans dropped points in their earlier encounter when they were held to a 0-0 draw in October but will be favoured to earn three curcial points playing at Camp Nou. But the Catalans know that their fate in the Spanish league depends upon the El Clasico due on 23rd March as they visit the Santiago Bernabeu knowing that a defeat will further widen the gap between the arch rivals.
The El Clasico will be prove to be another mouth-watering encounter this season and the stakes will be even higher as both Barcelona and Real Madrid stand neck to neck in the title race this year. Having established a 4 point lead over Barcelona, Madrid are expected to win against Malaga after having discovered their golden form under Carlo Ancleotii. Real are yet to lose a match in 2014 and have been playing commanding football under the Italian. Though playing Malaga away from home can be a challenging task, Real should be able to come back to Madrid with their lead in the La Liga intact next weekend. Their main worry is the three consecutive games they have lined up in succession as Schalke 04 visit Madrid on 18 March and then the El Clasico on the 23rd. Real will be playing three consecutive games in a week and hence Carlo Ancelotti will have to shuffle his squad to keep his players fresh for the El Clasico. The Men in White will know that a win against Barcelona will effectively put the title chase beyond Barcelona’s grasp as they will go 7 points clear of their arch-rivals.
The El Clasico will be of particular interest to Atletico Madrid who find themselves amongst these two Spanish giants in the run for the La Liga. Out of the Copa del Rey, Simeone’s men were leading the La Liga in February but dropped points against Osasuna and Almeria as they now stand on the second position. The ‘poor cousins’ from Madrid will be looking for a draw in the El Clasico in their bid to shorten the gap between the league leaders and themselves. But the Red and Whites themselves face a bunch of tough fixtures as the season draws to a hectic end. They host AC Milan on Tuesday before Espaonyol pay them a visit at the Vicente Calderon. It was Espanyol who stopped Atletico’s brilliant run at the start of the season and Diego Simeone will be expecting a tough fight for the three points that hang in the balance. Unlike Real and Barcelona, Simeone doesn’t have the luxury of a deep squad to chose his starting eleven from. This lack of depth might prove to be Atletico’s undoing as they face consecutive fixtures in their campaign. The Champions League is only going to get tougher if they edge past Milan and they have a game agaisnt Barcelona left which might turn into a fight for the second and third place if the El Clasico were to go in Madrid’s favour. However it will be unwise to write Simeone off so easily. The Argentine has showed immense determination and character to inspire Atletico Madrid into one of their finest campaigns in recent years and might be back in contention if the El Clasico were to end up as a draw and Atletico were to keep their end of the deal in the La Liga.