La Liga title run-in promises excitement to the end
It’s been refreshing to see Barcelona and Real Madrid go head-to-head in a genuinely tight, close-fought La Liga campaign. It’s been a few years since the two giants of Spanish football were locked in such a keenly contested title race. Since the 2016-17 campaign, when Real Madrid pipped Barcelona by just three points, the Catalan club have hit back in a major way, winning the league by a comfortable margin in each of the last two seasons. Indeed, Real Madrid have been well off the pace in those campaigns, finishing behind their city rivals Atlético in the last two seasons – cut far adrift from Barcelona.
But the return of Zinedine Zidane to the manager’s hot seat has helped Real Madrid to rediscover the champion qualities which have made them such a dominant force in European football over the last several years. At the time of writing, there are four points separating Real Madrid at the top of the table and Barcelona in second place, after Los Blancos won their game in hand. But such is the quality of both teams, it will be difficult for those betting on football to pick a winner.
For the neutral La Liga viewer, a close title race has been a breath of fresh air, and is one of the main attractions of the league for those eager to satisfy their football hunger following the barren spell of lockdown, which caused most leagues and competitions to be suspended. Now that football is back underway across Europe, the excitement is palpable once more, as fans gear up for the novelty of a La Liga title race run-in taking place in June – when we would otherwise have been watching Euro 2020.Real Madrid have a few potential banana skins in their run of fixtures as we head towards the end of the season – notably an away trip to Granada, who have surprised many this year with their fine performances, including a 2-0 win over Barcelona at Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes back in September. They must also take on Getafe and Villarreal at ‘home’ – two sides in the top six of the table at the time of writing – along with a potentially tricky fixture away to Athletic Bilbao. Aside from that, the games against Alavés and Leganes shouldn’t prove much of an obstacle for Zidane’s side, but anything can happen as the pressure mounts to secure a first league title in three years.
For Barcelona, the run-in looks a little easier, with all four of their fixtures against teams currently in the bottom half of the table – Espanyol, Valladolid, Osasuna and Alavés. A 4-1 thumping of Villarreal stands them in good stead to make one last heroic charge for the title. It seems paramount that Barcelona take maximum points from their remaining fixtures if they’re to overtake Real Madrid, but their positive result at Villarreal should give them the confidence to go on and win all four.
Zidane has plenty of experience winning trophies, and you wouldn’t expect his side to lose their focus as they seek to close out the title. But this is a younger Real Madrid side than in previous campaigns, and if Barcelona have any hope it’s that the pressure to close out the title with Barcelona hot on their heels will cause cracks to appear in Zidane’s well-oiled team. Whatever happens, it’s set to be a thrilling climax to the season – the kind of close-fought finale that Spanish football fans have been craving for a few years.