Atletico still in front as La Liga's thrilling title race hots up
Madrid (AFP) –
Three points separate La Liga's top four with five games left to play as Europe's most exciting title race approaches its climax.
Here, AFP Sport takes a look at Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, to assess who might be crowned champions in May.
- Atletico Madrid -
Fixtures: Elche (A), Barcelona (A), Real Sociedad (H), Osasuna (H), Real Valladolid (A)
Form: Atletico were 10 points clear at the start of February but six wins in 14 games since then have seen that lead reduced to two. Consecutive victories over struggling Eibar and Huesca this month sparked hope of a revival but defeat by Athletic Bilbao last weekend came as a hammer blow.
Condition: Atletico have been hit hard by coronavirus cases this season while recent injuries to Luis Suarez and Joao Felix were also tough to take. But coach Diego Simeone has his best options available again for the run-in. The real question is whether Atletico can recover psychologically after a disappointing few weeks.
Strength: If Suarez can rediscover his early-season form in the last five games, which includes a trip to Barcelona's Camp Nou, Atletico have a chance. And despite everything, they are still in the lead.
Chances: Atletico have the title in their hands after being let off the hook by Barcelona and Real Madrid, who have both dropped points in the past week. But they will need to find form fast to hold them off.
- Real Madrid -
Fixtures: Osasuna (H), Sevilla (H), Granada (A), Athletic Bilbao (A), Villarreal (H)
Form: Two weeks ago Real Madrid were flying, after beating Barcelona and knocking Liverpool out of the Champions League. But two goalless draws against Getafe and Real Betis have checked Madrid's momentum and given ammunition to those that believe a long list of injuries has finally caught up with them.
Condition: Zidane said after Madrid beat Barca his squad was at its "physical limit". The absences -- among them Sergio Ramos, who has hardly kicked a ball this year -- have hurt, but the strain has also been put on players like Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who have been denied the rest they need.
Strength: Ten consecutive wins at the end of last season launched Real Madrid to the title and if there is a team that has the mentality to deliver under pressure, it is them. They also have Karim Benzema, who is in the form of his life.
Chances: It is hard to shake the feeling Madrid are now crawling over the line but they might just have the kindest run-in, especially if Villarreal are resting players for the Europa League final on the last day. They also have superior head-to-head records over Barcelona and Atletico.
- Barcelona -
Fixtures: Valencia (A), Atletico Madrid (H), Levante (A), Celta Vigo (H), Eibar (A)
Form: Barca's defeat by Granada on Thursday came out of the blue, given they had lost only once before then since December, to Real Madid. A strong run of form appeared to have put the Catalans in the driving seat and the question now is how they react. They cannot afford any more blips.
Condition: Barcelona's biggest concern is suspensions, with Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong and Oscar Mingueza all one yellow card away from a ban. Ronald Koeman could leave them out against Valencia on Sunday to ensure availability against Atletico, but it would be a brave call to rotate at Mestalla.
Strength: Whether Messi is chasing his last La Liga title with Barcelona remains to be seen but he is certainly playing like it. He has 11 goals in his last 11 games and sits five clear at the top of the league's scoring charts. In this form, he can win any match on his own.
Chances: The performance against Granada showed Barcelona are still prone to lapses of concentration, and how will their youngsters handle the pressure over the next month? They may now have to beat Atletico and hope Sevilla can take points off Real Madrid.
- Sevilla -
Fixtures: Athletic Bilbao (H), Real Madrid (A), Valencia (H), Villarreal (A), Alaves (H)
Form: Sevilla are the form team, having taken 22 points from the last 24 available and won their last five matches in a row. That run included a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid and has put them right in the mix for the title.
Condition: None of the top four has played more than Sevilla's 49 games so far this season but they are showing few signs of fatigue. Julen Lopetegui's side are unbeaten since the start of March, when a poor run of results appear to have cut them adrift in the race at the top.
Strength: With Champions League qualification already secured, Sevilla have nothing to lose. There is not the expectation that weighs heavy on Barcelona and Real Madrid, nor the pressure at Atletico after spending so long in the lead. For Sevilla, a late run would take everyone by surprise.
Chances: Sevilla are not far behind but to win the title they have to overtake three teams and they will probably have to beat Real Madrid to do it. A victory at Valdebebas next week really would make people sit up and take notice.
© 2021 AFP