10 points. 8 points. 3 points. 10 points. Those are the tallies that separate the leaders and the chasing pack in Europe’s top leagues. In La Liga? It’s just 2. The ever sparring rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona have been trading places at the top of the Liga table since the start of the season and show no signs of letting up. Barcelona reached the summit first before making way for an extended period of Madrid at the top but then Los Blancos slipped and allowed Barça back into the fold.
Now, they are engaged in a game of “oh no, you first. I insist.” The story of other leagues across Europe has been one team taking hold of the trophy and refusing to let go. Chelsea, Juventus and Bayern all look certain to be crowned champions and it is only mid March. Meanwhile in Spain, and France as well, there is no team that has put a foot down to say we will be champions.
Following a run of three games which saw them gain 4 points out of a possible 9, Madrid opened the door for a resurgent Barça to take control of the title race. The Catalans looked happy to oblige, putting together a run of seven consecutive league victories. This was until they arrived at Deportivo La Coruna last Sunday and recorded a shock 2-1 defeat. Possibly suffering from a midweek Champions League hangover, Luis Enrique’s team failed to secure the points needed to ensure they remained top of the tree.
Madrid responded with another late Sergio Ramos goal to give them the victory and push them ahead of Barça in the table but despite having a game in hand, you can’t say with any certainty that the title will be heading to the Spanish capital.
“We’re not going to give up the fight for La Liga.” were the words of Luis Suárez after the Depor loss and fight seems the most accurate term to describe the final few months of the season. It will not be a case of one team gliding towards the finish line while the runner up stumbles over hurdle after hurdle, instead they will be stumbling right beside each other until one pokes their nose over the line.
Both teams have shown they are not invincible and are capable of slipping at any moment. The Bernabéu Clásico is set for late April and could very well be the title decider but you would not bank on both teams remaining unbeaten until then. This weekend, Madrid travel to the San Mamés while Barcelona welcome a Valencia that have shown signs of a righting of the ship in the past weeks.
The added fixtures of a Champions League campaign will also play a huge part in this title race. Barça are unexpectedly still in the competition and will have to focus their attention on that as well as La Liga, something they struggled with in the past week. They can not allow themselves to become over obsessed with either completion if they want to compete in both.
Bookmakers make Madrid favourites but bet at your peril because they haven’t engraved their name on the trophy just yet.