A close title race seemed all but a dream for the fans and players of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid going into the second half of the season. Following a 4-2 win over Cádiz at the end of January, Diego Simeone’s side went 10 points clear at the top with a game in hand over their loosely named title rivals.
Today, however, it is a different story with only two points the difference between first place Atlético and second place Real. A mixture of poor form from Los Colchoneros, a rejuvenation for their city rivals Real and a surge in form for Barcelona has left the gap all but gone at the top with the race for the league title now wide open.
Atlético have five games left with fifteen points to play for and with no domestic or European or domestic cups to distract them, fans will be expecting the full fifteen and LaLiga to be coming to the Wanda Metropolitano.
Simeone’s side will face seventeenth place Elche CF in a game with huge permutations at both ends of the table. Whilst the away side will be looking to keep their lead at the top, Elche will be hoping to steer clear of the drop as they sit one point above Real Valladolid, who have a game in hand.
The two sides last met in December with two goals from Luis Suárez and a penalty from Diego Costa giving Atleti a 3-1 win. It’s hard to see any difference for the reverse tie, especially with the return of Suárez and the positions of the two teams taken into account. This should be an easy win against a struggling side but could Atlético come undone against a backs to the wall fight for their life?
The toughest game of the run-in is the trip to Camp Nou in two weeks’ time. A run of seven wins in a row at the start of the year saw Barça claw themselves back into the title race and close a seemingly insurmountable gap between first and a side who had sat in twelfth earlier in the season.
It will be the biggest challenge in the path to the title against a side unrecognisable to the one Carrasco’s goal saw off in November. It’s set to be a headline fixture between two Spanish heavyweights who both have their sights set on the top spot.
A win for Simeone here could see the end of Ronald Koeman’s title aspirations but a defeat could see them lose their perch and potentially the league title.
REAL SOCIEDAD (H)
Another tough test follows as fifth place Real Sociedad visit the Wanda Metropolitano in search of three points to cement their Europa League spot. The top four is very unlikely to change with a 17 point gap between La Real and fourth place Sevilla but only four points sit between Europa League football and missing out.
The December meeting between the sides saw Atleti come out 2-0 winners in a simple day out for a side at the top of their powers. The home side will hope for more of the same in order to keep their lead at the top, or even to regain it depending on the Barça match.
Next up is eleventh place Osasuna who sit comfortably in midtable with no threat of relegation but no hopes of European football. Simeone’s side will hope to play on their ‘nothing to play for’ opponents and put them to the sword in the penultimate game of the season.
This match could see Atlético seal LaLiga and lift the trophy but could also spell a disappointing end to a very promising season. A repeat of the 3-1 win in October will be hoped for but no one can truly predict what will happen in the final games of the season.
The final game of the season, the be-all and end-all of the past 37 games, the trip to eighteenth place Valladolid could be a trip made while already celebrating but could also be ninety minutes where everything is to play for.
Valladolid will be fighting for their lives as they currently sit in the relegation zone but with a game in hand over Elche it could be a tough challenge with survival and the title at stake for each side, an easy way to end the season in theory, but all but so in reality.
Atlético haven’t won the LaLiga title since the 2013/14 season under current boss Diego Simeone.