Manchester City are on the brink of being crowned Premier League champions while Inter Milan ended Juventus’ nine-year reign in Italy last weekend, but it is all to play for in La Liga.
The battle for domestic glory in Spain’s top tier is going right down to the wire, and this weekend sees two of the title protagonists go head-to-head at the Camp Nou.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona are breathing down the neck of leaders Atletico Madrid, and will overtake Diego Simeone’s side with a victory on Saturday.
But there are two other teams still in with a shout of claiming the title with just four rounds of action still to play. Sky Sports caught up with Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero to assess where the 2020/21 La Liga race will be decided.
La Liga title race – state of play
1. Atletico Madrid (Played 34, 76 points)
Are they still favourites for the title? “They’re still the favourites but let’s see what happens in the Camp Nou! If they win that game, psychologically it’ll be very powerful. They would lose the leadership if Barcelona win as they are only two points behind. My feelings are that if Barcelona win, they will go on to win La Liga.
“Real Madrid could win against Sevilla on Sunday but they still have a difficult calendar. If Atletico win this weekend, they’re clear favourites. If not, it will certainly depend on results elsewhere. They suffered in the 1-0 win over Elche, it’s true they won well against Eibar 5-0, but they lost to Athletic Bilbao and they suffered a little bit against Huesca and they drew against Real Betis so they’ve not been playing with the feeling of champions.
“That said, they had luck in the final minute against Elche with the penalty miss [Fidel Chaves hit the post and replays showed goalkeeper Jan Oblak had encroached off his line], but my feelings are that Atletico are suffering. I’m not sure if it’s a physical issue or whether that sense of being so close to the title is starting to affect them.
“They’re not as strong as they were one or two months ago but the trip to the Camp Nou will be the perfect exam to show if they can win the league. They passed it in 2014 [Atletico won La Liga on the final day of the 2013/14 season by drawing 1-1 at Barcelona], and while the circumstances are slightly different this time as they will still have three more games, it’s a pivotal match.
“Simeone’s team in 2014 felt more secure and were more trustworthy. This team doesn’t fill you with the same confidence and you feel Barcelona are very capable of beating them at the Camp Nou.”
2. Real Madrid (Played 34, 74 points)
Is it dangerous to rule out Real? “There are many things to say about Real Madrid, but the first thing is that Zinedine Zidane has saved the club’s season. Some weeks and months ago, we thought that it would be a disaster. The team were struggling to progress from the Champions League group stages. But he has restored hope among supporters and they are taking the title race right down to the final few games.
“Everyone at Real knows that La Liga is a good title, but that the Champions League title is the most important one. Real are in the perfect moment where they are so close to achieving something great. We saw in the first leg against Chelsea that they managed to keep the tie alive even though they were the inferior side in Madrid.
“This generation of players don’t just play finals; they win them. It’s similar when it comes to La Liga. They have tricky games but it could well be that their opponents won’t have anything to play for. By the time they face Sevilla on Sunday night, they’ll also know the result from the night before [between Barcelona and Atletico]. So they are extremely dangerous.
“With three games remaining, they could well be the leaders [if Atletico fail to win at Barcelona and Real beat Sevilla]. They then have to face Granada, who are a tough team but they are eighth and it’s almost impossible for them to qualify for Europe]. They then face Athletic Bilbao, who are in the same position and Granada and then Villarreal – who could be preparing for a Europa League final three days later. They’re not playing against a side with a massive amount of motivation.”
3. Barcelona (Played 34, 74 points)
How significant is it for Ronaldo Koeman to win La Liga? “It’s extremely important as it would mean a domestic double having won the Copa del Rey. After the home defeat to Granada, my TV programme Deportes Cuatro reported that Xavi Hernandez was called by Laporta telling him not to renovate his contract with Al Sadd in Qatar because he wanted him as Barcelona head coach for the start of next season.
“But things can change.
“If Koeman wins the title, it would place significant doubt in the mind of club president Joan Laporta on his future. Winning the Doblete would make it very difficult for Laporta to justify sacking Koeman. Securing that in his first season while helping Lionel Messi return to his best since that explosive interview he gave in September where he expressed a desire to leave would have to be seen as a huge success.
“Barcelona fans would understand why Laporta would keep hold of the manager if he won both trophies and earned it on the pitch. The football hasn’t been fabulous but it would justify his stay. If Real Madrid were to win the Champions League, however, that would eclipse a Barcelona domestic double – which perversely could have a negative effect on Koeman.
“The game with Atletico will come down to which side defends better. We saw how Barcelona conceded against Valencia and Granada. It’ll be a match of not many goals.”
4. Sevilla (Played 34, 70 points)
Are Sevilla’s hopes over after Bilbao loss? “If they beat Real Madrid, they will still be fourth in the league with three games remaining. They would still have to win all three of those games and hope others drop points so it’s a tough ask. There are many inconveniences for them. Mathematically, they’re still not out of it but psychologically, the defeat at home to Athletic Bilbao on Monday could have a huge impact.
“Speaking to some of their supporters, they realise that their dream is probably now over. They will definitely finish in the top four now so perhaps they can play without pressure. With no pressure, perhaps they can play better but I would still prefer to play in Real’s position this weekend with that extra motivation.
“If Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona finishes in a draw, or if Barca win, Real know they would go top with a win against Sevilla. For me, that’s a greater motivation than what can happen through playing without pressure.
What happens if teams are locked on the same points?
Importantly for Real Madrid, they have the superior head-to-head record over both Atletico and Barcelona, so if it comes to it, they can call upon their fine performances over the duo to help deliver domestic glory. The results between the four title protagonists:
- Oct 4, 2020: Barcelona 1-1 Sevilla
- Oct 24, 2020: Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid
- Nov 21, 2020: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona
- Dec 5, 2020: Sevilla 0-1 Real Madrid
- Dec 12, 2020: Real Madrid 2-0 Atletico Madrid
- Jan 12, 2021: Atletico Madrid 2-0 Sevilla
- Feb 27, 2021: Sevilla 0-2 Barcelona
- Mar 7, 2021: Atletico Madrid 1-1 Real Madrid
- April 4, 2021: Sevilla 1-0 Atletico Madrid
- April 10, 2021: Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
If the two teams at the top of La Liga are locked on the same number of points and have an identical head-to-head [for example, if Barcelona win 1-0 against Atletico and finish on the same points] the league will be decided on goal difference.
La Liga title race – Head-to-head table
Koeman to be absent from touchline
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman will be absent from the touchline for Saturday’s crunch game after the Spanish football federation on Wednesday rejected the club’s appeal against a touchline ban.
Koeman was sent off in his side’s 2-1 home defeat by Granada on April 29 for saying “what a character” to the fourth official after being warned about his conduct.
He was given an automatic one-game ban which was then extended to two matches by the federation’s competition committee.
A statement by the competition committee said Koeman had been suspended for violating article 117 of the disciplinary code, which is described as ‘showing an attitude of disrespect towards referees, directors or sporting authorities’.
The Dutchman was absent for Sunday’s 3-2 win at Valencia which kept his side two points behind Atletico and will also miss the game against the leaders at the Camp Nou. His assistant Alfred Schreuder is set to take charge of the team again.
How to follow
Follow Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid via our dedicated live blog on Sky Sports website and app on Saturday; kick-off at 3.15pm.