Monday, 18 April 2016

La Liga title race: Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico's remaining fixtures

Barcelona forward, Suarez reacts to missing a chance against Valencia, Getty

Barcelona’s march towards their second successive La Liga title under Luis Enrique has hit the bricks in recent weeks, as we’re sure you are aware. Ever since that dramatic clásico defeat to a depleted Real Madrid at the Nou Camp, Barça’s season has entered a tailspin.

There is now a very real possibility that a team recently hailed as the best of their generation may end this season potless. This weekend’s 2-1 defeat to Valencia, revitalised under Pako Ayestaran, was theirg third on the bounce in the league and came after Champions League elimination at the quarter-final stage. All told, it leaves Atletico Madrid and Real breathing down their necks with just five games left to play.

 La Liga table (Google) 

So, how does the run-in look for each of the three sides in contention?

 Barcelona’s remaining league fixtures (Google) 
"I think we need five wins to win the title and if there is any team that is capable of doing that it's Barcelona," Enrique said following the Valencia defeat. He’s right. Five wins would see Barça take the title, no matter what their rivals don't.

If teams finish level on points in La Liga, head-to-head record is used to separate them rather than goal difference. Barcelona have superior records over both clubs from the capital in this regard. Their run-in is also, on paper, relatively simple. All their forthcoming opponents are in the league’s lower reaches, with Deportivo La Coruña, currently in 13th position, representing their toughest test. A trip to the Estadio Riazor is next up and a win there would provide the boost in confidence needed to turn this form around.

 Atletico Madrid's remaining game fixtures (Google) 

Diego Simeone’s men may have closed the gap this weekend but their next few fixtures are markedly tougher than those of their title rivals. A trip to the Basque country to face 5th-placed Athletic Bilbao is next up, followed by mid-table Malaga.

Simpler obstacles to negotiate come in the form of Rayo Vallencano and Levante but this season’s surprise package, Celta Vigo, will be no pushovers on thet last day of the season. With this run-in and those Champions League semi-finals against Bayern Munich to contend with, Atleti may be hard-pressed to continue the fight on all fronts.

  Real Madrid's remaining game fixtures (Google) 

More good news for cules here, as Madrid’s momentum may be dealt a blow by high-flying Villarreal on Wednesday. El Submarino Amarillo are looking to cement 4th-spot and beat Madrid earlier this season, albeit while they were in the care of former head coach Rafael Benitez.

After that, it’s a trip to Rayo Vallecano, who are likely to show greater resistance than they did while going down 10-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu in December. Los Blancos will then meet a number of mid-table sides with little to play for. Real go on the road to Real Sociedad, where Barcelona were recently felled, before entertaining Valencia. On the last day, they travel to Deportivo.

So who will come out on top???

On paper, you would still fancy Barcelona to be the first to cross the line, even if they do so with a limp rather than a canter. A lot will depend on how they react when they go to the Riazor in two days time. Win and, considering their remaining fixtures, you would back them to see it out. Draw or lose and it’s a different story, especially if they are taken off the top spot for the first time since January.