La Liga Game Week 28: What to expect from the top teams

The La Liga Santander title race is heating up at just the right moment, with Atletico Madrid dropping points, Barcelona picking up steam, and Real Madrid hanging on. Los Blancos are six points behind leaders Atletico Madrid but head into game week 28 with a boost after the return of Sergio Ramos and the fine form of Karim Benzema. The odds for this week’s games will be stacked. This week is a higjly anticipated week for sports in general, including, where some of the world’s finest in horse racing as the Cheltenham Festival, one of the most prestigious in the world, currently races on.

Atletico Madrid are lucky to still have a cushion at the top of the table because Simeone’s men have only two wins in their last five games, and their loss to Chelsea in the Champions League confirms their poor form. The Rojiblancos will look to bounce back this weekend when they face Alaves who sit in eighteenth place and are battling relegation.

Alaves are on a poor run of their own, with four defeats and a draw in their last five matches. Their position in the table means they have a chance to fend off relegation, meaning they might be a problem for Atletico if Simeone’s men do not play at their best. Barcelona have the best form of the top three, and seem reinvigorated after the voting of Joan LaPorta back as president of the club.

Lionel Messi seems to have particularly benefitted from the move as the Argentine has found his scoring touch once again. Now out of the Champions League, the Blaugrana have all their energy to invest in the pursuit of Atleti and the La Liga crown. That pursuit continues in game week 28 when they face Real Sociedad on Sunday. Playing away to Sociedad has always been difficult for Barca, but an in form Messi will no doubt be a welcome sight.

Four wins in the last four games have Koeman’s men four points behind Atleti. One huge factor may be the El Clasico which is set to play next month. The winner of that game may well be the last real threat to Atletico and the Blaugrana will be keen on reestablishing their dominance over Madrid with a win. Real Madrid are six points adrift but just two behind Barcelona, meaning any slip up from the Catalans will see their rivals overtake or draw level with them, with the Derby fast approaching.

Madrid needed late-game heroics from striker Karim Benzema to get all three points but given their solid form and the boost of Ramos’ return, Los Blancos should be able to handle the task of handling a pesky midtable team in Celta Vigo. This is always a tricky game for Zidane’s men, but with the title at stake, there should be a burning desire to get on the front foot from the kick off. Real have looked solid in recent weeks, and have most of their key players back in the lineup again. Still in the chase for Champions League glory, Zizou’s men may have more to do than the other two teams ahead of them but that is part of the usual expectations at Madrid, one the team is very capable of handling.

Is Atletico Madrid still the best place for Thomas Partey?

He has been the subject of much transfer speculation of late and it’s not hard to see why Thomas Partey might have his suitors. While Atletico Madrid have endured a difficult 2019/20 campaign, only making a late surge to a third place finish in La Liga to save their season, the Ghanian midfielder has impressed.

Indeed, Thomas has become a key figure at the Wanda Metropolitano, outshining the likes of Koke and Saul Niguez in the Atletico Madrid midfield. Now, the 27-year-old is facing a career crossroads, with a number of Premier League clubs reportedly keen to sign him over the summer transfer window.

The £45 million release clause in Thomas’ current contract is a big reason why he has become so attractive to potential suitors, but even without that price tag it’s likely there would have been interest in the player this summer. The 27-year-old is the ultimate modern midfield anchor, providing great energy and drive through the centre of the pitch.

Thomas is tenacious and strong in the tackle, but is exceptional with the ball at his feet, both as a dribbler and a passer. He would be the perfect addition for a team like Arsenal, and indeed the North London club are widely believed to be leading the pursuit of the Atletico Madrid midfielder. Mikel Arteta has reportedly made the signing of Thomas this summer a priority as he looks to overhaul his squad at the Emirates Stadium.

There is, however, also talk that Thomas could sign a new contract with Atletico Madrid. Latest reports claim the Ghanaian is still in discussions with the Spanish capital club over a new deal that would eliminate the £45 million release that is currently making him so attractive to Arsenal and other Premier League clubs looking for a relative bargain.

At the Wanda Metropolitano, Diego Simeone plays to Thomas’ strengths. He uses the Ghanian to channel attacking moves through the centre of the pitch. There’s no guarantee that Arteta would have as much faith in Thomas, although the Spaniard appears to be a fan. Thomas could become a giant at Atletico Madrid, with the second half of the 2019/20 season suggesting they are heading in the right direction again. Thomas could still be a significant part of this as they move into a new era.

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Atletico Madrid moving forward by taking a step backwards

This season was always likely to be one of transition for Atletico Madrid, but Diego Simeone surely wanted to avoid the dips that saw the capital club spend much of the 2019/20 campaign outside of the top four. Indeed, the outlook for Atleti was bleak when the Spanish Liga season resumed after the coronavirus shutdown.

Since then, though, Atletico Madrid have found a rich vein of form and with Saturday’s 1-0 win over Real Betis Simeone took his side into the Champions League once again, with a top four finish now guaranteed. After a season which has seen Atleti fans pushed to the point of even questioning Simeone, this feels like an achievement after if, before the start of the campaign, it would have been the very minimum expected.

Simeone spoke about giving Atletico Madrid a new identity as a club and a team before the start of the season. Under the Argentine, Atleti had become the perfect manifestation of the underdog spirit, but it became harder and harder for Simeone to perpetuate this the more successful his side became. The construction of the club’s new state-of-the-art Wanda Metropolitano stadium also underlined their rise to the elite level of the game.

But by attempting to adopt a more expansive, dynamic style of play Simeone only managed to erode many of the principles that had raised Atletico Madrid to that stage in the first half. Toothless in attack and vulnerable at the back, Atleti went large periods of the season without offering much at all.

Now, though, they have reverted back to default. To move forward, Atleti have taken a step backwards by going back to what they know best. Their win over Real Betis on Saturday night was a largely dull and insipid affair, but it was a classic Atletico Madrid victory as they ground down their opponents. There have been a few of these sort of victories since the restart.

This might not be what Simeone envisages for Atletico Madrid’s long term future, but by going back to what he knows he has kept the club progressing. Champions League football will be back at the Wanda Metropolitano next season and with that the club has a platform to grow and evolve. Simeone has proved that the old Atleti are still in there somewhere.

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Atletico Madrid finally on the road to salvaging their season

The picture was bleak for Atletico Madrid as they returned to action after a three-month hiatus due to the coronavirus shutdown. Diego Simeone’s side had endured a difficult campaign and faced an uphill battle to just finish in La Liga’s top four, securing their place in next season’s Champions League.

Now, though, things look a lot better. Atletico Madrid have found a vein of form, winning four of the five games they have played since La Liga’s return to lift themselves up to third place in the table. With the end of the season now coming into sight it appears the capital club will once again have a seat at the top table of the European game next season.

A few tweaks from Simeone have contributed to this change in fortune. Of course, the faltering form of those around Atletico Madrid has helped, with Real Sociedad and Getafe in particular struggling to pick up where they off in March, but the Argentine coach deserves credit for the changes he has made.

One major tweak has seen Marcos Llorente been converted into something of an attacker. Signed from Real Madrid last season, Llorente was initially used as a holding midfielder. His performance at Anfield, scoring twice to knock Liverpool out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage, seemingly opened Simeone’s mind to his attacking capabilities.

Llorente has been pushed higher up the pitch and has given Atletico Madrid a creative presence that they were previously lacking in the final third. His new role has added a new dimension to Simeone’s side, opening up space around the edge of the opposition box and in the penalty area. Atleti are a better balanced side now than they were at any other stage of the season.

Diego Costa has also found some form having had three full months to rest up, while Atletico Madrid’s defence is doing a better job of defending set pieces, giving Simeone a bedrock to build his team upon. All of a sudden, there is a structure and form to Atletico Madrid’s play again. They are a team unit again.

Of course, even if Atletico Madrid finish in the top four, this season cannot be considered a success. They targeted silverware before the start of the 2019/20 campaign. But they are finally on the road to salvaging something and giving themselves a platform again.

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Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid old guard breaking up

Diego Godin

Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone is bracing himself for some big name exits this summer, as his experienced core nears the end of their La Liga careers.

The Argentinian is well aware of the ageing of his squad, however there appears to be little he can do to convince his stalwarts to agree to one last battle.

Defensive pair Diego Godin and Filipe Luis, who have been at the bedrock of Simeone’s side for the best part of a decade, but will leave when their contracts expire this summer.

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Napoli tie will be test of Arsenal’s Europa League credentials

Last season, it was Atletico Madrid. Arsenal were paired with the Spanish giants in the semi finals of the Europa League. Diego Simeone’s side were the first real test that the Gunners had faced in the competition and they stumbled, failing to make the final and secure a place in the following season’s Champions League. That might have been the moment Arsene Wenger was truly pushed out the exit door.

This season, with Wenger gone and Unai Emery at the helm, the litmus test has come a little earlier in the Europa League. Napoli will travel to North London this week to take on Arsenal with a place in the competition’s final four on the line. It’s arguably the toughest draw that the Gunners could have been handed.

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“We are being consistent a lot at the moment,” Emery explained ahead of the quarter final clash against the Italians. “This match is a big-level match, and the level we want to play. It’s a very big test for us in this competition. We want to play the best teams and Napoli now is one of the best teams, with the best players and also a very experienced coach.”

Indeed, Napoli are a quality side. In a more favourable Champions League group, they would have qualified for the top tier competition’s last 16. Even still, they managed to beat Liverpool, drawing against Paris Saint-Germain home and away. Napoli are an elite level side even if they are not competing at the elite level.

Under Maurizio Sarri, Napoli were the epitome of dynamic, exciting, forward-thinking football. Those qualities have been blunted somewhat since the exit of Sarri to Chelsea last summer, but Carlo Ancelotti has picked up where he left off, maintaining Napoli as a force both domestically and in Europe.

Arsenal will fancy their chances against Napoli. There’s a case to be made that the Gunners are the favourites to win this season’s Europa League. Atletico Madrid were, and still are, a better side than the Italian visitors to the Emirates Stadium this week.

But what happens over the two legs will provide an indication as to whether Arsenal are ready to win the Europa League, pulling up a seat at next season’s top table in the Champions League. Napoli, just like Atletico Madrid last season, are the litmus test for Arsenal in this competition.

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Are Barcelona hitting poor form at the wrong time?


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.

Alvaro Morata’s Atletico Madrid move stalls

alvaro morata chelsea

Alvaro Morata’s move to La Liga title challengers Atletico Madrid is yet to be completed, with both sides saying they are still some way off an agreement for the 26 year-old.

The Spanish international looks certain to end his stay in West London, but time is running out ahead of the closing of winter transfer window at the end of January.

Atletico have confirmed that they are interested in bringing Morata back to Madrid, where he spent five years at rivals Real Madrid, across two separate spells, however manager Diego Simeone confirmed that nothing is yet agreed between them.

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Antoine Griezmann needs to leave Atletico Madrid if he wants the Ballon d’Or

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Antoine Griezmann has won no individual awards this year which strikes one as being rather odd. Here he is a player that is playmaker for Atletico Madrid who have won the Europa League this year and beat Real Madrid to win the UEFA Super Cup. On top of that he led France in winning the World Cup, but to the voters he bizarrely isn’t even good enough to make the top 3 best in the world.

Griezmann has publicly bemoaned these decisions and it ends up being a fine line for him. For if he keeps on speaking about he will look like a petulant child who didn’t get his rewards, and yet if he keeps quiet he will rightfully feel that he has missed an opportunity to speak out. But why is it then that Griezmann who continues to win trophies, play well, make goals and score them is being ignored when it comes down to winning individual awards?

Let’s go back to last summer when Barcelona entered talks to buy Griezmann from Atletico, Barca being the only realistic club in Spain that could get him, given that he was never going to consider joining Atletico’s rivals Real Madrid. Griezmann at Barcelona, would have been a sight to behold but talks broke down and it is only now that Griezmann has come out and told us why.

The reason was that he didn’t want to be Messi’s lieutenant and play second fiddle to the Argentine great. Griezmann told Canal+, “was it hard to refuse Barca? It was very difficult. You have Barca who wants you, who calls you, who sends messages. But then there is the club where you are, where you are an important player and where they build a project around you, subconsciously, being Messi’s lieutenant may have played a part.But my team-mates and people at the club did everything, they came to talk to me, they increased my salary. They did everything to show that it was my home and that I shouldn’t leave. It was really complicated times, especially for my wife where I woke her up at 3am to talk about it.”

In some ways Griezmann should be applauded for not making the jump to a bigger club where inevitably more trophies would follow. At the same time Atletico are successful in their own right and will always be able to challenge for trophies at least as long as Diego Simeone is in charge of the club.

The problem for Griezmann though is it seems not only do you have to play in Spain to win the big awards but you also have to be either playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid. This is evidenced in the fact that the best players awards have gone only to these two teams since 2008. The last time a player won the trophy from outside of Spain was in 2007 when Kaka won with AC Milan.

So what can Griezmann do, because winning the World Cup wasn’t good enough to be recognised as the best. If not playing for Barca or Real Madrid it seems that his one option is to lead Atletico to another Champions League final, this time winning it. For now Griezmann’s loyalty may have just cost him the best player in the world tag.


Should Real Madrid be worried after Super Cup defeat?

Rarely, if ever, before has a Real Madrid manager faced such a baptism of fire. Taking over at the Santiago Bernabeu is always a tall order. It is one of the most pressurised jobs in the European game, but what Julen Lopetegui has faced this summer is unprecedented. Wedneaday’s defeat in the European Super Cup only added to the pile that is mounting in front of the new Real boss.

Ordinarily, a defeat in the European Super Cup wouldn’t cause much of an impact. It is, after all, a glorified friendly, a curtain raiser to the continental season. But this wasn’t just any European Super Cup for Real Madrid. This was a symbolic European Super Cup against Atletico Madrid.


While this summer has seen chaos at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Zinedine Zidane resigning as manager before the shock sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, Atletico Madrid have managed to keep their best players (Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann and Jan Oblak), adding real quality in the transfer market – see Thomas Lemar and Gelson Martins for just two such additions.

Lopetegui wasn’t even Real Madrid’s first choice to replace Zidane. They wanted Mauricio Pochettino, then turned their focus to Julian Nagelsmann after failing to lure the Argentinean from Spurs. Lopetegui was way down the list of candidates given his lack of experience in the club game.

Even at international level, Lopetegui was unproven. He didn’t even get the chance to lead Spain into a major tournament, sacked on the eve of the World Cup after accepting the Real Madrid job. There are those who claim the 51-year-old simply won’t be able to handle the spotlight that will be on from him the very start. He is unprepared for what he is about to face.

What’s more, Real Madrid are a mish-mash of a team on the pitch as well. Ronaldo is gone and that will place more of a burden on the ageing Karim Benzema and the injury prone Gareth Bale to come up with the goods on the big occasion. There is an imbalance to their squad, between youngsters like Marcos Asensio and Dani Ceballos and ageing stars like Luka Modric and Benzema.

Lopetegui has a lot to untangle at Real Madrid and he won’t be given much time to do it. Florentino Perez is desperate for the capital side to establish themselves as the dominant side in Spanish football, but both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona will be strong again this season. There will be no honeymoon period for the former Spain manager in his new job.

Zidane had the aura and personality to mask all the problems that Real Madrid faced in recent years. Lopetegui doesn’t have that. In fact, he is already fighting an uphill battle given all that has happened this summer. Not many solid conclusions can be drawn from the European Super Cup, but the signs are already rather negative.

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