Barcelona drew again, but so did Real Madrid. Valencia lost. Atlético Madrid won, just barely, and so did Sevilla. The result? Barcelona are first, and by a decent margin, but they look far from an all-conquering side and the rest all are aspiring to climb higher.
Barcelona’s current form of two draws in a row (referee mistakes notwithstanding) is not exactly sparkling. The loss of Samuel Umtiti, one of their top performers, for two months due to injury will surely be a blow as well. They haven’t blown away too many opponents, although they’ve shown recently they may be moving up the gears. They’re 5 clear of second-placed Valencia, six ahead of Atlético, and eight ahead of Real Madrid and Sevilla. Eight points is less than the gap between first and second in either Ligue 1 or the Premier League.
Then again, the rest of the top 5 have just as many, if not more, questions surrounding them. Valencia couldn’t beat 10-man Getafe and they are relying on a few players to maintain absolute top form given their relative lack of depth. Atlético have struggled to score (though Antoine Griezmann is getting out of his slump) and could end up drawing too many matches. Real Madrid have looked an absolute mess at times, and their star strikers Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema are misfiring. Sevilla have looked poor at times this year, and their wild comebacks show they can be a tough bet to maintain any semblance of consistency. Some would argue with Sevilla even being included in this group at all, but given that Real are sure to be discussed, it seems only fair to include a team tied on points in that conversation.
This Liga season, if it continues like this, could be the most wide-open for a long time in terms of the sheer number of teams who dream of winning the title. It’s a far cry from the days at the beginning of the decade when the league was called a “two horse race” by many because only Barcelona and Real really stood a chance. Even as we’ve become accustomed to Atlético challenging for the title in the past few years (and winning it once, too), we’re not used to seeing at least one and arguably two other teams also in contention.
“Contention” is relative, of course, as Real and Sevilla are eight points adrift of the leaders and one will likely fall further behind when the two play each other next week. But consider this: Atlético, despite finishing in third, accumulated 15 points less than champions Real Madrid last season.
And even that is a far cry from, for example, 2011-12, when third-placed Valencia finished a massive THIRTY NINE points behind league winners Real Madrid.
In fact, a team in fourth hasn’t finished within eight points of the champions since 2003-04, when fourth-placed Real Madrid finished seven points behind Valencia. And even then, the team in fifth was a further 14 points behind, not tied on points with the fourth placed team like Sevilla currently are.
So, do we seriously expect Sevilla to challenge for the title? Perhaps not, but how the top four shakes up could still be very interesting. It’s hard to say if Valencia, for example, will be winning the title or if they’ll drop off significantly. Will Barcelona continue racking up points or will they be overtaken? Will Atlético play the turtle to Barcelona’s hare and end up grinding enough results to go top? Will Real Madrid kick on and challenge for the crown, or will they, astonishingly, miss out of the top four altogether? Are Sevilla complete pretenders or can they really push on and finish in the top four?
Right now, it’s a bit harder to predict than in the past. And that’s a little exciting, isn’t it?