After 21 matches played Atletico Madrid sat pretty atop La Liga with a lead of 11 points over both Barcelona and Real Madrid in the La Liga title race. That was at the end of January. Fast forward two months and Diego Simeone will be wondering how it has all gone so wrong.
ATLETICO MADRID’S FALL
Los Rojiblancos’ latest stumble came on Sunday night with a 1-0 defeat away to Sevilla. The loss left them just three points ahead of Real Madrid and four ahead of Barcelona, having played a game more than the Catalans. What was expected to be a spring procession has turned into a scramble to the finish line.
📊 The full #LaLigaSantander table…
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) April 4, 2021
Simeone’s side has won just two of their last six matches in the league and crashed out to Chelsea in the Champions league in March. Their drop in form has opened the door for the big two to come back into the title race despite underwhelming starts to the season.
A club surrounded by controversy and heading towards bankruptcy in Autumn, Barcelona’s turnaround has been remarkable, especially the fact that they are back in the La Liga title race. On the field, a familiar face has led the recovery. Lionel Messi leads the scoring charts in the league and has been directly involved in a goal in each of his last 14 matches in the league.
Lionel Messi has scored more goals in 2021 than 49 of the 98 teams in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
Out of this world. 🌍 pic.twitter.com/2UD6aNP0Oc
— 10bet (@10betSports) April 2, 2021
Ronald Koeman’s side is consequentially unbeaten in 16 in La Liga and have the chance to close the gap to Atletico to just one point when they face Valladolid later today. They also managed to stage an impressive comeback in the Copa Del Rey semi-final, turning around a 2-0 first leg deficit from the first leg against Sevilla.
A familiar face has been responsible for an off the field improvement as well. Joan Laporta returned to presidency in March and there is a positive atmosphere around the club. Deep problems remain at the club but there is now an expectation that they can be solved contrasted with the dreary hopeless first half of the season.
VOODOO BY ZIZOU
If there was one word to sum up Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid, it would be winners. Irrespective of their form and playing standards, his side has an unmatched tendency to turn up on the big stage and get the job done. It may not always be pretty but three Champions League titles and one La Liga trophy is good solace for some scrappy football.
Real will be hoping for the quick return of Sergio Ramos who got injured with Spain last week. Ramos, along with the old guard of Benzema, Modric and Kroos, has been key to Real’s good form which has seen them pick up 20 points from the last 24 available. Turning up yet again when needed.
🔝 Cristiano Ronaldo – 311 goals
🔝 Raul Gonzalez – 228 goals
🔝 Alfredo Di Stefano – 216 goals
🔝 KARIM BENZEMA – 187 goals
🔝 Santillana – 186 goals
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) April 3, 2021
MUCH TO UNFOLD IN THE LA LIGA TITLE RACE
Atletico’s defeat means that the stakes for next weekend’s Classico have increased. The victor will emerge as the prime challenger while Simeone will be hoping for a draw. All three clubs have similar run-ins and the title may very well be decided by who can hold their nerve under pressure.
Barcelona and Atletico are yet to play each other and face off in a potentially decisive fixture on May 9th at the Camp Nou. Madrid are the only team out of the three still in Europe with a Champions League quarterfinal against Liverpool to come.
HOW DOES IT END?
Atletico still has the most complete squad in the league but their form is a huge cause for concern. Moreover, their tendency to play passively in big matches has turned into a major problem. It led to their Champions League exit and was exposed by Sevilla again last night. Simeone’s team has played some good quality attacking football this season but recede into their shell against stronger opposition.
Real, for all their winning mentality, lack quality. Vinicius and Rodrygo have not delivered the necessary output to support Benzema and Eden Hazard’s brittle legs cannot be counted upon. They have relied on individual quality throughout Zidane’s reign and this time they just don’t have enough of it. Maybe just another Champions League for Zizou.
Barcelona are the most in-form team in the league. They also have the world’s best player in their ranks which always helps. If Messi can inspire this rebuilding Barcelona side to the title, it will be amongst his greatest achievements. The return to form of Antoine Griezmann and more energy in midfield has helped and FootTheBall says put your money on Barcelona to win the La Liga title race this season.