PAMPLONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 11: Javier Mascherano of FC Barcelona (C) is shown a yellow card for protesting during the La Liga match between CA Osasuna and FC Barcelona at the Reyno de Navarra Stadium on February 11, 2012 in Pamplona, Spain. CA Osasuna won 3-2.(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
As predicted right here on Managing Madrid, Barcelona's away form has continued to plague them in the second half of the season as they slumped to a 3-2 defeat to Osasuna in bitterly cold conditions in Pamplona, leaving their title bid dead in the water if Real Madrid can see off Levante at the Bernabéu tomorrow evening. Two early goals from Osasuna's Serbian frontman Dejan Lekic allowed the Navarrese club to see off Barcelona's second half comeback attempt.
Should Madrid beat fourth-placed Levante tomorrow, as is expected, the capital side would sit a massive ten points ahead of Barcelona at the top of the table. If seven points wasn't already an insurmountable lead at this stage of the season, ten points is. Now, Levante beat Madrid at their stadium earlier this season and have done superbly to be in a Champions League place, so the points from this match are by no means certain. However, Levante have kept their place largely by not performing quite as poorly as their rivals for fourth place, not by playing well and racking up the victories. Madrid should take full points from this encounter, particularly at home, and that would effectively mean that both teams could focus fully on the Champions League.
The league title race being over so early should give the Big Two a competitive advantage in their hunt for Europe's most prestigious prize. One potential negative feature is that while seven points gives Barcelona enough of a fighting chance that they feel obligated to contest league fixtures with vigor despite the fact that they have essentially no chance of winning the title, ten points means they no longer have much of a vested interest so long as they stay above Valencia in the table.