At the turn of the year it looked like Real Madrid could be cruising to the title, but a lot has changed in the past two months. Los Merengues still lead the table, but their form has been shaky at best – including a crushing 4-0 defeat at city rivals Atletico Madrid – while Barcelona have been on a tear and have cut the gap at the top to a mere 1 point, with El ClA?sico at Camp Nou coming in about 1 month’s time. It is now looking like it’s the Catalans who have all the momentum, with their famous attacking trio of Messi, Neymar and Suarez firing on all cylinders, especially the Argentine, who after two years where he was average for his impossibly high standards, seems to have refound the sort of form that led many to wonder whether he’s the greatest football player of all-time. Barcelona have won each of their last 11 matches, scoring 42 goals in the process and only conceding 8; after a period where Luis Enrique’s work was called into question, it’s now safe to assume that if Barcelona continue this rampant form La Liga is theirs to lose.
The above is all the more true considering that Real Madrid’s season seems to be following an opposite trajectory; after an absolutely rampant start to the season, Ancelotti’s side form really dipped at the turn of the year. The fast free-flowing football coupled with goals galore has been replaced with grinding out wins and falling in the sternest tests at the Mestalla and the Cald ron. The likes of Bale, Benzema and especially Cristiano Ronaldo have experienced a noticeable dip in performance after scoring for fun in the first half of the season, raising questions about where Real Madrid peaked too early this season. With that said, just like the momentum shifted towards Barcelona in the past month, it could easily shift back; we’re definitely in for a very tight and unpredictable La Liga title race and one clear advantage Real Madrid hold over Barcelona is depth; a serious injury to a key Barcelona player, especially one of their front three, could seriously hinder their campaign, while on paper Real Madrid have a lot more options in their squad.
This is not just a two horse race, though; there’s a third horse lurking in the shadows, defending champions Atl tico Madrid. Los Colchoneros have actually won both their matches against Real Madrid in La Liga (and eliminated them in the Copa del Rey), 2-1 at the Bernabeu and an emphatic 4-0 home win a few weeks ago, but consistency against the non-title contenders has been their achilles heel so they actually trail their city rivals by 7 points (and Barcelona by 6 points) despite having beaten them twice, a gap that will likely prove impossible to overcome. Still, given the feats Diego Simeone has been pulling in the past few years, you can’t completely rule out Atl tico from this race.
Below the top 3, it seems clear that the remaining 3 European spots will go to Valencia, Sevilla and Villareal, who will fight for the all important 4th Champions League spot. Valencia and Villareal have looked pretty impressive, even scoring some fantastic results and performances against the Big 3, while Sevilla have been consistent even if generally unimpressive against the top sides. Although it’s expected to be a close race to the end, you’d have to give Valencia the edge due to the superior depth of their squad and also what seems to be an easier run of fixtures than their two direct rivals.
This is shaping up to be an unusual La Liga season in the sense that we probably already know who will qualify to Europe (we just don’t know the order), who will be relegated and, naturally, who will be midtable. Sides like Elche, Almeria and Deportivo aren’t totally out of the woods yet, but it definitely feels like Granada, Levante and Cordoba are easily the three weakest teams in the league and will be unable to close the 4 point gap separating them from the survival zone. Those three sides have by far the worst goalscoring record in the league as well as goal differential. With that said, although the fight to avoid relegation is unlikely to bring much excitement this time around, the fight for 4th and especially the Barcelona vs Real Madrid tussle for the La Liga title is sure to keep everyone engaged. The March 22 El ClA?sico is a match no football fan can afford to miss.