La Liga Title Race Blown Wide Open

Real Madrid ended February with a 3-2 win over Villarreal, reversing a 2-0 deficit by scoring three goals in the second half to win the game and regain their top spot. Earlier that week they had lost 2-1 against Valencia allowing Barcelona to close the gap on them and just last night Los Blancos had to fight back from 3-1 down with only 10 men on the field to end up drawing 3-3 against Las Palmas. Barcelona on their behalf were ruthless scoring six goals against Sporting Gijon.

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Barcelona now lead the La Liga table with 57 points, Real Madrid sit just one point behind them although Zinedine Zidane’s side has played one game less than Luis Enrique’s but considering his club’ current form, their title charge could be in jeopardy. The title race is officially back on, even though it was never called off. Despite the frenzy and drama that surrounded Barcelona following their 4-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, the Catalans are now on an 18-game unbeaten run in La Liga and have won their last five matches in the league. Domestically, they are dominating and they’re close to winning the Copa del Rey as long as the don’t falter against Deportivo Alaves.

The build-up to next month’s Clasico couldn’t have been better. Real Madrid have dropped five points in the past three matches allowing Barcelona to catch some ground. However, it’s not all disaster at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid may have let him plenty of goals recently but their fighting spirit has proved to be vital. Their second half performance is worth noting as they’ve been able to score late goals. Cristian Ronaldo is back to performing well, he’s now at 18 goals in the league, just three behind Leo Messi. Defensively, Real Madrid may be fourth best but in terms of attack, they’re second only to Barcelona.

Zinedine Zidane still has one game in hand and winning it could get his team back on top of the league but Barcelona’s failure in Europe means that they will be prepared to play their best in next month’s Clasico. The two sides badly need a win, Real Madrid have not won the league in five years now while Barcelona are hoping to cover up for their European failure for a second year running by winning the league for a third consecutive time.

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Barcelona: Building Momentum

Confusion, disorder and chaos filled the air during the build up to Real Madrid’s trip to Galicia in the weekend but the match against Celta Vigo was never played. The terrible winter weather and Galicia’s geographical location on the Atlantic Ocean meant that winds travelling at a speed of 150 kilometers per hour had dislodged parts of the roof at the Balaidos stadium. Thus, for obvious safety reasons, Celta Vigo’s game with Real Madrid had to be called off.

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Real Madrid who already had one game postponed from earlier this season against Valencia will now have to fit in their busy schedule another tie against Celta. Madrid still have Champions League football to fill their upcoming weeks while Celta Vigo who kicked Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey have to play in the Europa League. The postponement could be a blessing or it could be harmful for Los Blancos who continue to lead the table despite playing two games less than their rivals Barcelona.

On the other hand, Barcelona took advantage of Real Madrid’s inaction and made a statement by registering a 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao. Aleix Vidal, who was an outcast in the earlier half of the season, seems to be back in the squad and he was even on the scoresheet. Barcelona are now just one point behind their historical nemesis Real Madrid. They will be hoping that European distraction could make Zinedine Zidane’s team falter in the league, but Los Merengues need to falter in three games for Barcelona to be able to take advantage. Barcelona built up further momentum by securing a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid to make their way to the Copa del Rey final against Deportivo Alaves. Can Barcelona continue their form and avoid dropping points in the league?

It’s highly unlikely but possible. Last season Real Madrid managed to close a big gap with Barcelona only to finish the season just behind. This season, things have been reversed, Barcelona are the ones who have a mountain to climb. The difficulty of the task makes one wonder, should the Catalans put more focus on the Champions League or should they fight on both fronts equally? The Blaugrana will be facing PSG next week and have a high chance of advancing since PSG has been having a tough season in the Ligue 1 and is not known to be a big player on a European level. The football season is nearing its peak and this is the most crucial time of the season. Real Madrid’s postponed game means that the title battle has been reignited at least for the time being.

Early Exit: Real Madrid out of Copa del Rey

A Tired Real Madrid side suffered an early Copa del Rey exit following a 2-2 draw and a 4-3 aggregate loss against Celta Vigo last night. Real Madrid’s hopes of winning the treble have faded away but Los Merengues should seize the opportunity to shift their focus on reclaiming the La Liga title after many years of failure.

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Real Madrid currently sit on top of La Liga table with 43 points despite having played on less game than both Sevilla (42 points) and Barcelona (41 points). Until recently Madrid had a 40 game unbeaten streak, but they have now won just one of their last five games. There are definitely worrying signs for the capital club but perhaps their early exit from the domestic cup would allow them to focus on staying ahead of Sevilla and Barcelona in the title race and return to their winning ways.

Last night Real Madrid failed to score from open play and in recent times they have had to rely on Sergio Ramos’ scoring abilities to be saved in other games. It is obvious that the team is tired and the injuries have not helped Zinedine Zidane give his players a rest. The season started straight after the Euros and Real Madrid had to partake in last season’s Champions League final as well as this season’s European Super Cup and the Club World Cup. Things have definitely been hectic for Madrid but they shouldn’t rest on their laurels just yet.

Zidane will now be focusing on the upcoming games against Real Sociedad in La Liga and Napoli in the Champions League. Real Madrid needs to be strong, convincing and uncompromising in their games. Any hiccup in the upcoming games could put the team under unneeded pressure. The season goes on as Atletico Madrid, Celta Vigo, Deportivo Alaves and one of Barcelona and Real Sociedad proceed to the Copa del Rey’s semi-finals. Perhaps, this could be a chance for Luis Enrique’s Barcelona to win some silverware this year.

Sevilla: The Newest Dark Horse in La Liga

Sevilla started 2017 with a 3-0 loss against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey: A result that would surprise very few. After all, Real Madrid are used to scoring goals against other Spanish teams. However, when one look at Sevilla’s current form and their season, the result stands out. The Andalusian side had only lost three times in the past 17 games, two of which were against Juventus and Barcelona. Jorge Sampaoli’s team immediately bounced back with a 4-0 in La Liga over Real Sociedad followed by a 3-3 draw with Real Madrid in the second leg of the Copa del Rey and finally defeating Los Blancos 2-1 last week.

Sevilla FC v Real Madrid CF - La Liga

 

Sevilla closed the gap to just one point with the current league leaders. Despite Real Madrid playing one game less than Sevilla, it is extremely surprising to see a new competitor in the title race. In the past few seasons, we had been used to seeing Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid lead a three horse race but this season, Jorge Sampaoli is having his say even though his chances of winning the league are still low. The only time Sevilla came close to winning the title was in 2006-2007. They arrived in the final game with just two points less than both Real Madrid and Barcelona and they eventually lost the title.

Los Rojiblancos are not getting carried away though. Sevilla’s president Jose Castro Carmona has downplayed his side’s chances: ‘We are very satisfied but we have to keep our feet on the ground. We are realists, we do not give up on anything but our goal is to qualify to the Champions League.’

The five-time Europa League winners brought an end to Real Madrid’s 40-game unbeaten run and both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid managers Luis Enrique and Diego Simeone are fully aware that Sevilla is a real competitor in the title race. Sevilla finished second in their Champions League group, meaning they can no longer count on Europa League success for silverware this year. Perhaps this serves as a motivation for Sampaoli’s team and a chance for him to prove that Sevilla can be a real competitor domestically just like Atletico Madrid have been in the past few years.

El Clasico Returns

El Clasico is back. Another game will be added to the ever growing list of encounters between Spain’s biggest two clubs. The fans at the Camp Nou will be hoping Barcelona can reverse their luck and return to winning ways as they hope to cut the six point gap separating them from Madrid by half. On the other hand, Real Madrid are hoping to pile more misery on the Catalan side in a bid to reclaim the La Liga title after several years.

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Barcelona have had a mixed season so far winning eight, losing two and drawing three games in La Liga. Whereas they managed to top their Champions League group with one game left to play. Luis Enrique will want to play in the same way his side played against Manchester City when they won 4-0. After resting many of the top players in the Copa Del Rey match against Hercules, Luis Enrique will field his strongest possible starting eleven against Los Blancos. Obviously MSN will be leading the front-line but that is not enough.

Last time the two sides met in Barcelona, Zidane’s Madrid emerged as winners. Unless Barcelona step up their game then a repeat of that scenario is very likely. Andres Iniesta returns from a two month injury to Barcelona’s luck. A huge task will fall on his shoulders this Saturday in front of Madrid’s midfield. At the Madrid camp, Gareth Bale is the most notable absentee but Lucas Vazquez’s recent form should give Zidane some assurances up front. In case Zidane decides to keep Vazquez on the bench, Isco will likely take his spot and play alongside Benzema and Ronaldo. In the middle, Casemiro, Kovacic and Modric have been doing well so far this season and if Casemiro plays the same way he did in the last Clasico, then Messi will not be that big of a threat but what about Neymar and Suarez?

A big game is waiting for us this Saturday, another Messi vs Ronaldo, another Barcelona vs Madrid and another Luis Enrique vs Zinedine Zidane. Everything is at stake and both teams will be giving it their all as both sides fight for La Liga’s title.