La Liga is often tarnished with a brush of predictability. Cast back to Barcelona’s loss to Real Madrid a few weeks back and few were still predicting anything other than another Barcelona title. Losing to their bitter rivals would constitute a blow, but not enough to derail the reigning champions entirely.
Now approaching week 34, La Blaugrana have lost their last three League matches and been dumped out of the Champions League. They sit level on points with Atletico Madrid, a mere point ahead of Los Blancos. Head-to-head means that the title remains in Barcelona’s sweaty hands, though now many are predicting it’s going to slip from their grip.
In any title race, in any League, it’s possible to peak too soon. Barcelona were formidable, invincible just a few weeks back whilst Madrid season’s was considered underwhelming. The latter have now won their last six League matches and have momentum firmly with them. Similarly, Atletico have won five of their last six and were the team to dispose of Barcelona in the Champions League.
At this stage in the season momentum becomes vital. Players will be starting to feel the physical fatigue of a long season and the mental stress of fighting for a title. The importance of each match is heightened so mental strength and togetherness becomes precedent. Doubts have now been cast over Barcelona, with Luis Enrique himself confirming his side is in a rut. The question is, how quickly can they get out of it?
This Wednesday is a crucial set of fixtures for the trio. Barcelona visit Deportivo La Coruna in what is a fantastic opportunity to regroup. Despite drawing the reverse fixture, the team from Galicia have won just one of their last 17 matches and Barcelona have scored at least four goals in their last three visits to Riazor. Madrid, meanwhile, face a tough home match against Villarreal, who won the return fixture earlier this season. Atletico have perhaps the trickiest game of the three, however, away at Athletic Bilbao who are unbeaten in 12 of their last 13 matches at home.
Of the remaining fixtures, it could be said that Barcelona have the easiest run-in. After their match against Deportivo, they face Sporting Gijon, Real Betis, Espanol and Granada. Whilst all four are still entangled in a relegation battle, Betis the highest positioned in 14th, Barcelona will hope their superior quality will trump them. In the reverse fixtures, Barcelona received 10 points from 12, dropping points from their draw with Espanyol.
Atletico Madrid’s remaining fixtures include Malaga, Rayo Vallecano, Levante and Celta Vigo. In the reverse fixtures, Atletico beat Levante and Celta Vigo but drew with Rayo and lost to Malaga, whilst they were also knocked out of the cup by Celta Vigo.
Real Madrid still have to play Rayo, Real Sociedad, Valencia and Deportivo. Whilst Real Sociedad and Valencia are too far off to be fighting for European football, they both showed their quality and motivation in dispatching Barcelona. In the reverse fixtures, Madrid beat Rayo and Deportivo emphatically, dispatched Sociedad 3-1 and drew with Valencia.