Having been supposedly ‘out of the La Liga running’ by all accounts as early as midway through the season, and with a 12 point deficit on Barcelona and 4 points on noisy neighbours Atlético after the painful 1-0 loss on matchday 26, few could have expected the Royal Whites to be facing a complete turnaround scenario where we are realistically competing for the coveted La Liga title.
Nevertheless, a combination of excellent form since – winning 7 on the trot in the league while simultaneously progressing to the champions league semi-finals – some slips ups from the Catalan side and perhaps some Zidane magic leaves us at matchday 33 sitting 1 point away from the coveted top spot.
While undoubtedly the league remains in Barcelona’s hand first and foremost followed by Atlético - both would need to drop points one time more than The Merengues - that’s not to say it could swing in any direction. The final 5 league games for all three teams now become critical, and here’s a look at the final stretch for all three.
Every fixture is given with the reverse fixture score earlier in the season, as well as the league position at the time of writing this article (Matchday 33).
Average position to face (15.4), 3 away 2 home fixture.
Arguably the most difficult run in to predict, Barcelona face five sides struggling near the bottom end of the table. With currently only ten points between 20th and Deportivo at 13th, no team in the bottom half of the table is mathematically safe. While on the one hand facing the lower-end teams should theoretically mean easy points for Barcelona, consecutive losses to Valencia and Real Sociedad show that is not necessarily the case. Additionally, teams facing the stark reality of relegation, particularly at the tail end of the season, face extra motivation to fight tooth and nail to scrap any results. Barcelona have no Champions League fixtures to congest their final few games, so perhaps will be the best rested, however let’s not forget, just a draw is enough to put La Liga out of Barcelona’s hands.
Game to (not) Watch: Barcelona vs Espanyol (8th May)
Out of the fixtures remaining, the Derbi barceloní against Espanyol is probably the one most likely to cause an upset. Although over history the fixture strongly favours Barca after a 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture earlier this season, Espanyol will have the added motivation of trying to steal the league title away from their bigger neighbour’s grasp at their own home.
Average position to face (10.8), 2 away 3 home fixtures.
A mixed fixture list for the league’s best side defensively, with only 16 goals conceded thus far, Atlético face Bilbao and Vigo sides looking to cement their place in the European spots and a relatively safe Malaga team, as well relegation contenders in Levante and Vallecano. Although the team with the most home fixtures remaining (3), Atéltico are actually the league’s best side on away form, winning 12 from 17 matches away from the Vicente Calderon, with a weaker home record than both Real and Barcelona. Atlético must drop at least as many points as Barcelona and once more than Madrid to open the door for Real Madrid to move to the top.
Game to (not) watch: Athletic Bilbao vs Atlético Madrid (20th April)
With a narrow win at the Vicente Calderon earlier this season, next week’s Bilbao match has the billing to be a closely contested game. Bilbao being 6 points away from a Champions League spot but only 5 points from slipping out of the Europa league positions, complacency at this stage of the season could cost the Basque team dearly for next year.
Villarreal (H) (4th) (1-0)
Rayo Vallecano (A) (16th) (2-10)
Real Sociedad (A) (10th) (1-3)
Valencia (H) (12th) (2-2)
Deportivo La Coruna (A) (13th)(0-5)
Average position to face (11), 3 away 2 home fixtures.
Last, but certainly not least, Real Madrid. Although the only team still to play 4th placed Villarreal, equally with fixtures against relatively safe Sociedad, Valencia and Deportivo sides, Madrid may have more desire and motivation and hunger to see out these games. Villarreal will undoubtedly be a difficult hurdle to overcome, with their primary objective to solidify their Champions League position, and lest we forget Barcelona have recently lost to a both Sociedad as well as a Valencia side recovering from Neville’s reign. Three away games will be tricky to overcome, with the Bernabeu becoming a fortress during Zidane’s young reign so far, but Madrid must find a way to grind out the results at any cost.
Game to watch: All five!
Five wins are almost certainly going to be necessary to have a chance to win the title, every game will be nail biting to watch particularly if the title goes down to the final matchday. If one must choose a game to define the season, then Valencia (8th May) will be an essential match to win, with a tricky second leg in the Champions League against Manchester City coming four days prior, and likely setting the mood for the match at the Bernebau.