With ten games to go in La Liga Santander, Atlético sit in pole position as we return to league action following the latest international break, but who are the real favourites for the title?
A quick glance at the table will show you that Atlético Madrid are four points ahead of Barcelona at the summit, with a six-point cushion over city rivals Real, but the form table paints a very different picture:
Courtesy of soccerstats.com
With a sample of the last six rounds of fixtures, the league leaders are actually in fourth place behind their two rivals in the title race and Real Betis.
What’s more, aside from Real Madrid, Atleti are still to play the other four teams that make up the top six in the form table, all of which are away from home, apart from a home game against Real Sociedad at the back end of the season.
If that wasn’t tough enough, the rest of Atleti’s remaining ten league fixtures see them face four of the current bottom five clubs, who will be fighting for their La Liga Santander lives over the next six or seven weeks – there are a lot of potential banana skins here for the colchoneros.
That said, we shouldn’t disregard the fact that any team that has amassed 66 points or more after their first 28 league games over the past five seasons has gone on to win the league, and Atleti currently sit top with 66 points from 28 games.
On top of this, the current leaders have a fully fit first team squad to choose from, despite João Félix coming off at the end of the first half in Portugal’s win over Luxembourg in the week. This could be crucial at the business end of the season, although it’s also worth noting that Luis Suárez, José María Giménez and Marcos Llorente are all one booking away from suspension.
What we also see from the form table is that Barça are hitting an unbelievable run of form at exactly the right time as they look to close the four-point gap on the league leaders. They aren’t resting on their laurels, either – in winning five of their last six in the league, Barça have netted a total of 18 goals compared to Atlético’s six.
The Catalonians do still have the challenge of a Clásico next week as well as the visit of Atlético to the Camp Nou, but you would have to fancy them going on their current form.
On the contrary to Atleti, however, Barça do have a number of first-team players on the injury list, with the likes of Gerard Piqué, Ansu Fati and Sergi Roberto still out of action. An additional source of anxiety for Ronald Koeman will be the fact that Lionel Messi is another who is one booking away from suspension, and they could really do without losing the league’s top scorer at this stage.
Currently sitting six points behind Diego Simeone’s side, Real Madrid have the largest deficit to cut, as well as the longest injury list. Captain Sergio Ramos picked up a calf injury during a training session with the national team this week, which sees him ruled out of both of the upcoming Champions League ties against Liverpool and next week’s clash with Barcelona.
Other doubts for this weekend’s return to league action include midfielders Toni Kroos and Fede Valverde, right-back Dani Carvajal and Eden Hazard, still nursing the latest of his series of injuries.
The injury woes and added distraction of a two-legged tie with the English champions mean that the next couple of weeks will likely make or break Madrid’s season, but if they can take all three points at home against Barcelona, they will be right back in the thick of it and looking to pile the pressure on Atleti.
The city of Seville could play a major role in determining where the La Liga trophy ends up at the end of May, with Sevilla and Betis both welcoming Atleti over the coming weeks, as well as travelling to the capital to face Zinedine Zidane’s side. Although out of the title race, both Sevilla and Betis are in great form at the moment and should prove tough obstacles to overcome for the madrileños.
Based on the above mentioned factors of form, injuries and fixtures, the smart money would be on Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona to steal the title from under Atlético’s noses, but anyone seeking out drama should not look away from La Liga – it looks like this one is going down to the wire.