They used to call La Liga a two-horse race. Barcelona and Real Madrid shared the Spanish title between them for nine straight years between 2005 and 2013 before Atletico Madrid broke their duopoly in 2014. This season, there are four teams capable of finishing top of the pile with Sevilla targeting only the second title in their history.
Not so long ago, Atleti had a commanding lead in the double figures. They were, in the eyes of many, champions-elect. Diego Simeone side’s stuttering form, coupled with a resurgence from Spain’s big two and Sevilla, has resulted in a sprint to the finish with just three points between four teams at the top of La Liga.
What unfolds between now and the end of the season will go down in Spanish football folklore. The weekend of May 8 and 9 in particular has the potential to produce drama with all four sides facing each other - Barcelona will host Atletico Madrid while Sevilla will travel to the capital to take on Real Madrid.
Barcelona can go top for the first time this season with a win over Granada on Thursday night. Ronald Koeman’s side have won 15 of the 17 league fixtures they have played in 2021. Lionel Messi has struck 24 goals in that same time period while the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong have flourished as supporting acts.
Real Madrid haven’t been able to maintain the same consistency as their Catalan rivals, but their capacity for winning the matches that matter most mean they cannot be discounted as contenders. Karim Benzema, with 15 goals in his last 16 appearances in all competitions, is in the form of his life and could be the deciding factor in the title race.
Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla have won seven of their last eight in La Liga. Had the Andalusians not suffered a shaky start to the season, when they won just of their opening six fixtures, they might have been the frontrunners at this point. Even with that handicap, Sevilla have pulled themselves back to within touching distance of their first title since 1946.
The outlook isn’t so positive at the Wanda Metropolitano, however, where Atletico Madrid have dropped points in eight of their last 14 league fixtures. To make matters worse, Luis Suarez is currently struggling for fitness while Simeone appears to have lost faith in €128m youngster, Joao Felix. Their momentum of early 2021, when they won eight games in a row, is gone.
Now, it is a case of whether Atleti will have enough in the tank to get across the line. The looming clash with Barcelona on May 8 is shaping up to be a season-defining moment for Simeone and his players. A positive result at Camp Nou might make them title favourites again with their run-in otherwise favourable.
In a strange way, the grind might actually suit Atletico Madrid. This could be their comfort zone. Simeone likes his players to suffer and they are certainly suffering right now. It might not be pretty, but Atleti could still get the job done with archetypal ‘Cholismo’ fight and spirit. Nobody will remember how close they came to letting the title slip if they ultimately end up with the trophy in their hands.
Spanish football has been the subject of some criticism this season with many arguing the sport in the country has allowed its standards to slip. It’s certainly true that Barcelona and Real Madrid aren’t currently as strong as they have been in the past, but the vulnerabilities shown by all four La Liga challengers has resulted in a title race for the ages.News Now - Sport News