Momentum for Athletic, deflation for Madrid

Should Barcelona go on to win the title this season, some may look back at Week 26 as a decisive moment in the season. Real Madrid’s shock 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao coupled with Barcelona’s emphatic 6-1 win over Rayo Vallecano means La Blaugrana sit top of the table for the first time in 17 weeks – and they could stay there.

Carlo Ancelotti may chalk this up to a bad day, or rather, week, at the office. Save for a spectacular though unintentional long range effort from Gareth Bale, Madrid in truth created very little, and looked far from the potent outfit which put goals past teams for fun.

But it is far too early to condemn Los Blancos to another title-less season. It simply highlights the fact that it is fickle at the top, and one poor result could drastically change things. There have been some strange results this season, and that could still be the case.

Yes, Madrud have surrendered a four-point lead in a week and have only found the back of the net once in their last two games, and that goal came from the penalty spot. But is hardly a crisis – the title is still very much in their hands.

Fans and media alike tend to panic and exaggerate whenever Real Madrid or Barcelona lose. Madrid are usually so dominant and emphatic in their victories that one or two poor results are viewed as a crisis. Madrid didn’t start the season too brightly, with many fearing the worst after the departures of Angel Di Maria and Xabi Alonso.

Ancelotti stayed calm and turned things around superbly. This time around, without Luka Modric and James Rodriguez, that fear has returned, and the Italian tactician must once again work his magic. Saturday’s defeat could spur on Real Madrid much like it did earlier in the season, but talk of total collapse is premature.

Barca supposedly went through the same crisis, with Luis Enrique’s job reportedly on the line after they dropped as low as fourth in the table. They’ve now won 15 of the last 16 matches, and on current form do not look like losing any time soon.

As for Athletic, after a horrific start to the season, this win will serve as an indication of just how well they’ve turned things around in the past month or so and caps of an excellent week in which they reached the Copa Del Rey final, after beating Espanyol on aggregate.

Four wins in their last five matches comes after a disastrous run where they only won two out 11. Rather unfortunately, this little run of form may have come a tad too late for Ernesto Valverde. With Athletic eight points off Malaga in seventh and 12 points behind sixth-place Villarreal, they will have to settle for mid-table.

The demands of European football have taken their toll on Athletic. Without the ability to recruit heavily in the summer, their squad has been stretched by their Champions League and Europa League runs.

Their European adventure has now come to an end after defeat to Italian side Torino and that may serve as a blessing for the remainder of the season, with most of their focus now on their League campaign. This result could serve as a massive turning point for both Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. But given the surprises this season keeps throwing up, who knows in which direction?