OPINION

The La Liga title run-in & so much more

The destination for this season's La Liga title remains a mystery
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With just eight matches left in the race for the La Liga title, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, and Barcelona are locked in the chase with very little to separate them.

Atleti’s double-digit lead has dwindled to just one point after the weekend’s rounf of games. The next couple of weeks promise to be fascinating with the title run-in for as the picture gets clearer.

The injury-depleted Los Rojiblancos (The Red & Whites) were held to a 1-1 draw by Real Betis on Sunday. This followed from the El Clasico clash on Saturday where Real scored a decisive 2-1 win over FC Barcelona.

Diego Simeone’s side needed to take maximum points at Betis but unfortunately couldn’t put in a convincing performance at the Benito Villamarin. Though they were able to retake the top spot with the draw, it continued their unconvincing run of results; just four wins in their last 10 games.

Simeone’s defiance hides a sinking feeling

Simeone remains confident his side are still in a strong position in the La Liga title race despite seeing their lead cut again.

Simeone remains upbeat despite the team’s loss of form

“We will see what happens, all the teams have a moment of irregularity and hopefully we have passed it after today’s draw,” he told a post-match interview with Marca.

“We have maintained a firm and strong step this season as both Madrid and Barcelona have begun to recover so we will wait and see.”

His team now faces eight vital league games before the end of the season. They can afford to focus fully on the league this weekend while their title rivals are in action in the UEFA Champions League and the Copa del Rey final.

Eibar heads to the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano next followed by games against Huesca, Athletic Bilbao and Elche before travelling to the Camp Nou on May 9 for a potential title decider against Barcelona.

The chasing El-Clasico pair

Real Madrid took all three points and the El-Clasico bragging rights and are finding form at just the right time. Zinedine Zidane’s squad management has worked wonders in recent games despite a substantial list of absentees due to COVID-19 and injury issues.

Many probably assumed that Saturday’s clash would have been a bit of a damp squib. After all, the quality of football this season has dipped around the world, La Liga and their giants are far from the peak of their powers, but that wasn’t the case on Saturday night.

Barcelona are hot on the heels of the Madrid pair despite the loss on Saturday. They are one point behind Real and two behind Atleti with no games in hand.

Real Madrid scored a very decisive win in El Clasico

Manager, Ronald Koeman would have been very disappointed with the terrible first-half performance in a match the side desperately needed not to lose.

Given what was at stake, an attritional 0-0 and sharing of spoils was not entirely out of the question wouldn’t have been the worst result for the Blaugrana.

But, what we were treated to, however, was one of the best Clasico’s in living memory. Both teams came out of the blocks at a storming pace, with Barça controlling possession and creating pretty patterns around the Madrid box, while the hosts laid in wait, looking to launch blistering counter-attacks.

Inconsistency creating Europe’s most exciting title run-in

At this point, it is safe to say that with a bit of consistency, one of the chasing trio would have been out of sight now (in a manner similar to Manchester City in the Premier League). Atletico’s first half of the season was magnificent with the team amassing 50 points in the first 19 games of the season.

This was largely propelled by the sensational form of Luis Suarez and solidity at the back. This has been eroded since the turn of the year with the team struggling to get goals and clean sheets.

Real Madrid have also had lots of issues across the season with match fitness for key players and some weird tactical decisions by Zidane contributing to a sluggish start.

Messi’s stay-or-go drama has been the clearest example of Barcelona’s issues

The injuries suffered by key players like Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal and others made finding a settled First XI very difficult for the defending champions.

Barcelona can be forgiven if they falter as it’s a club still in turmoil from the ruinous Josep Bartomeu presidency. Huge crippling debts, the Lionel Messi saga and the psychological issues associated with heavy losses in the UEFA Champions League means this very young side still has a way to go before it can become a consistent title challenger.

The run-in and nerves

There is an oft-used phrase in Spain when there’s a title race to behold. ¡Hay Liga! meaning ‘There is a League”. This phrase with can be interpreted as meaning “game on” or “buckle up for the final stretch.”

It is very appropriate in the context of this season. It’s usually spoken out of joyful anticipation, giddily shouted so you can hear the inverted exclamation mark before it’s even said.

However, what happens when no one wants to win La Liga? Is there…Liga? Can there still be a glorious final stretch in a war of attrition? Maybe it’s the pandemic’s squeeze—the global drop in revenue and transfer funds, the shortened preseason, the rampant injuries, the shadows of big-name departures.

Atletico Madrid will be very nervous going into the title run-in

Or maybe it’s Atlético Madrid showing its Spanish hospitality once again, gifting some springtime hope to its hated rivals by giving away a 10-point lead.

The inconsistency of all three teams has made it difficult to name a favourite to win La Liga this season, but it’s still Atletico Madrid’s to lose.