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Saturday February 17 2018
Can Atleti catch Barca?

Luke Taylor explains why Atletico Madrid have an enormous task on their hands to catch Barcelona in the race for La Liga…

Last weekend’s results in La Liga, with Barcelona being held 0-0 at Camp Nou by Getafe and Atletico Madrid beating Malaga 1-0 on the Costa del Sol, mean we might just have a bit of a title race on our hands. The gap is now only seven points between Barca in first and Atleti below them, but do Los Rojiblancos really have a chance of catching Ernesto Valverde’s men?

In all likelihood, the answer to that question is ‘no’, but the fact that the gap has been reduced to one, which is definitely not unassailable, means there is still a bit more excitement to be had, unlike in England, Germany and France, where there are runaway leaders. 

The problem is, for Atleti anyway, that the leaders in this case are Barca, who are yet to lose a League game and have always seemed to turn it on when it matters most. On the other hand, they do seem to be slowing down. The Catalans have drawn their past two Liga matches and due to Copa del Rey exploits, their schedule has been very demanding and will continue in that vein with the return of the Champions League. The remaining months of the campaign are going to be a real test of Valverde’s game management.

As for Diego Simeone’s side, despite lowering the gap, they’re relying on the Blaugrana to drop points, which is something they’ll do themselves. On top of that, Los Colchoneros haven’t been absolutely convincing as of late either, although they seem to just keep plugging away in the shadows, which is something Cholo will relish. There’s also the small matter of the Europa League, which will see them play a lot of games if they are to progress to the latter stages and something they’ll undoubtedly want to do.   

“The truth is we must continue to improve, but at least we’re winning and when you’re in that position, improvements are easier,” said Simeone. “We’ve made important strides in terms of picking up more points against tough opponents, and Saturday was important as we got the early goal to settle ourselves down. We aren’t looking at any other teams, we’re only focused on ourselves and increasing the points tally we finished last season with. To not play well and win is important, but if we want to go higher, we must do more.”

In terms of the run-in, Atleti’s looks to be the more difficult. They still need to travel to Sevilla, Villarreal, Barca, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad, whereas Barca need to face the same sides on their home turf. Therefore, it might seem like there is a title race, but if Simeone was to mastermind another Liga title from those fixtures, while trying to gain seven points on their rivals, it would be an unbelievable achievement. A win at Camp Nou next month would certainly make things even more interesting.

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