Even before the new Spanish league started Barcelona were installed as favourites. The bookmakers were not silly and realised that too much had changed at Real Madrid for them to compete this season, no Zidane and no Ronaldo meant transition and then Julen Lopetegui was sacked and the best Madrid could muster was Santiago Solari to steer the ship until the end of the season. Madrid looked doomed and Barcelona looked set on to win yet another league title.
And so the title played out that way, at one point just a few months back, Barcelona had gone 10 points clear of Real Madrid, and then February happened.
With 23 games played and 15 more still to go Barcelona are in 1st place but the gap is not just 6 points. Real Madrid have swallowed 40% of that gap up after going their last 5 games in a row unbeaten and winning all of those matches. Of course it’s not as if Barcelona have started to lose games because they haven’t. They have lost just 2 all season. But they have drawn their last two, which in the league can really affect your standing.
First there was the 2-2 draw at home to Valencia and that was followed up by a disappointing 0-0 result away to Athletic Bilbao, where the team including Lionel Messi gave a listless display. That same weekend Real Madrid had just beaten rivals Atletico Madrid in their classic derby by 3-1 which has made all the difference to the league standings. And of course it has been 3 games in total without a win for Barca who also drew 1-1 in their Copa del Rey match with Real Madrid.
The league then is all to play for, even Atletico have a chance as they are just a point behind Real. After that there is no chance for the others. But can Barcelona hold their nerve in what was supposed to be a write off season for Real, who now has a second wind?
Well let’s be honest and say that Barcelona are still in the driving seat. They have the most points, have scored the most goals and have conceded just 23 all season. They are still the team to beat but not many people thought that it would end up being this hard, and they have made heavy weather of it somewhat.
Next weekend they will play 15th place Valladolid at Nou Camp and will be massive favourites to beat a team who have won just 3 games on the road all season and won none of their last four matches away from home. Meanwhile Real Madrid will be trying to keep up the chase when they take on Girona at home, both will be expected to win and one could well think that this league could go down to the last couple of matches. Watch this space.