Last weekend Real Madrid took full advantage of the stalemate between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona to cut the gap between them and the two joint-leaders to three points. What would have come as a surprise to Los Blancos and, indeed, most onlookers is that over the weekend both Atleti and Barca would again drop vital points against Sevilla and Levante, respectively. And, like they did last week, Real Madrid took full advantage of it, cutting the distance to just one point. It really is game on.
While Atleti’s failure to beat Sevilla will have raised a little concern amongst the faithful at the Vicente Calderon, Barca’s inability to beat Levante was a bigger failure.
Admittedly, the Blaugrana were not that bad. They enjoyed almost 80 per cent possession and created numerous goal scoring chances – enough to surely win the game. However, the finishing was lacking on the night and Coach Tata Martino admitted as much, “It was not a good day for our finishing and it was not the result we had come for.”
Despite all their domination and chances, ultimately Barca were foiled by a Levante side that was highly-disciplined in defence, suffocatingly close in midfield and daring when playing on the counter attack. They rattled Barca and not only by scoring the opening goal but by threatening to regain the lead in the second half. There is no doubt that the home side’s Keylor Navas was the busier of the two ‘keepers but Victor Valdes had to pull out a couple of top draw saves too in order to keep his team in the game.
Barca may lament the loss of Neymar and Andres Iniesta to injury. Indeed, Iniesta’s ability to weave through the tightest of defences was missed. However, given the array of talent on the field they still should have got the job done. All the credit belongs to Levante however, who made it hard for the Barca players to combine and open up their defence. In the second period, despite all their possession Barca actually did not look all that threatening when going forward and increasingly the burden fell on the shoulders of Lionel Messi.
Nevertheless, as Martino asserted after the game there is no need to worry, “The result is a little negative. But, this game alone does not worry me because nine times out of ten we win games like this”. And, this is certainly true. The ball just did not fall Barca’s way and while the finishing could have been better, the Catalans did everything they could.
What will worry Martino now however is that Real Madrid are firmly back in the title race with just a point the difference. And against Betis, Madrid were simply mesmerising. They scored five beautiful and unanswered goals in one of their most convincing displays this season. Madrid’s rise will also have Atletico a looking over their shoulder.
Los Rojiblancos could only muster a point at home to Sevilla. It was an opportunity missed as a win would have put Diego Simeone’s men two-points clear at the top for the first time this season. However, it was not meant to be as Atletico along with Barca allowed Madrid back into the title race. From this vantage, it seems any one of the three could win La Liga, debunking the myth that Spain is dominated by just two clubs – at least for a little while.