With El Clasico coming and going, we see a much better picture of the shape of La Liga. That picture clearly stated, by showing the jersey directly in front of their faces mind you, that this race is far from over and Barcelona are right there on Madrid’s heels. The league seemed all but wrapped up after Barcelona’s horrific defeat to Malaga, but El Clasico brought it all right back and now we sit back with less then 5 games remaining, with a good old fashioned race to the trophy. But who has the edge going into the final stretch of the season? Will it be Barcelona who lifts the trophy for the 3rd consecutive year? Or will it be Real Madrid who finally lift their first league trophy since 2012?
The Statistical Edge
Real Madrid will have the advantage going down the stretch having a game at hand over Barcelona. They’re each level on 78 points which means, Real Madrid could have a potential extra point or three in their back pocket. It’s not as good as it looks though for Los Blancos who with their extra game, will have more fixture congestion then La Blaugrana. Barcelona only have 4 games between now (April the 26th) and the end of the season (May the 21st). That’s compared to the 7 games that Real Madrid has to play until the end of the season. Those games will take it’s toll on the Madrid players, BUT Zizou is usually pretty good at rotating his squad and his “B Team” (which is a harsh moniker but is the only name I can give them right now. Maybe “not as preferred but freaking good team”) of James, Isco and Morata and Asensio are up to the task of keeping this lead and beating out their La Liga foes as the heavy hitters continue in Europe. Madrid could also use this volume of fixtures to their advantage, they could win out these games and continue building momentum and using that to vanquish their Madrid foes in the Semifinals of the Champions League. I’m sure the players would rather be out on the pitch and playing games then on the training pitch.
The Mental Edge
The mental edge has to go to Barcelona though. Winning El Clasico in the Bernabeu must have been deflating for Los Blancos. And it showed when their defensive players dropped to the ground and Ronaldo threw his tantrum near the sideline. It was gut wrenching, it was demoralizing, and it has thrown what looked like the best team on the planet, off balance. Now with their defeat to Messi and Lucho’s entourage, their is talk of a title collapse at the nation’s capital. Talk of the Madrid hierarchy losing patience with underperforming and unhealthy players. There is even talk of removing their Champions League winning manager from his position and installing German National Team Manager Jogi Low. It’s madness, it’s anarchy, it’s delicious for Barca. This is how they like to see their eternal foes. In a panic, with nothing to see in front of them and if they look back, they see Messi flashing his jersey to them. Although, Madrid has done excellent to avoid the Clasico hangover with a 6-2 thrashing of Deportivo.
Madrid only have 4 games officially on the schedule as they await the reschedulement of one of their La Liga clashes. They own a game over Barcelona and it could decide the league with with each team level on 78 points. Each will also have a little bit of a rocky road as their tests against each other may over, but their journey is far from it. Madrid host Valencia at the Bernabeu this upcoming weekend, and that could be an issue for Los Blancos since Los Che defeated the famed club in February 2-1. It’s a whole different ball game when any opponent walks into the Bernabeu and the world will need more then a Messi stunner to change their home dominance. Madrid will also host Top 4 side Sevilla in mid may as a worthy near final hurdle for the title challengers. Sevilla will surely come out and play their best and look to spoil Los Blancos’ title challenge. Sevilla have already topped Madrid as well earlier in the season and that was at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Sevilla have the ability to pull a shocking upset and Madrid will need to come out with their best. Finally, for their final test of the season, Madrid will have a sneaky fixture against Malaga on the road who managed to beat Barcelona earlier in the month. Barcelona have a difficult tests down the stretch as well, including a trip across town to Espanyol for a Barcelona Derby. Barcelona usually show up with their full arsenal on derby day but Espanyol will be looking to trip up their hated rivals and halt their title charge. Even a draw could be catastrophic for Barca who can’t afford to lose points. Around the time Madrid play Sevilla, Barca will have their final hurdle against 5th place Villarreal who’ll be looking to knick some points away from the Blaugrana as well. They’re difficult games and slip ups can not be afforded with the disadvantage that Barcelona will have with Madrid’s extra game.
Who Will Lift The Trophy?
All signs are pointing Barcelona’s way with their form hitting top peak right when they might need it most in the league. Their win in El Clasico and the fact that they’ll have more rest time could give them the edge to win out their games and wait for Madrid to slip. The mission seemed bleak after Barca’s unspeakable defeat to Malaga but their victory at the Bernabeu has given them newfound life and hope that they’ll be the table toppers at the end of the season for a third consecutive season. Madrid however, may take this loss in a different way, they must learn from this loss and get back to working as hard as they were when they were in top form against Bayern. Complacency was written all over the Madrid side of the pitch on that fateful night. Complacent to sit 1-0, complacent to equalize late and settle for a draw, complacent to sit on a commanding La Liga lead and not build on it. Madrid have not shown that same complacency in Europe, and they were hungrier at other points in the season and this loss may have brought Los Blancos back to famishness. That need for a trophy, not just a want, realizing that a season without a trophy in Madrid is unacceptable. Madrid may get that hunger back, now that the situation seems much more dire. I think that Madrid are going to win out and take the Liga crown. Their belief and determination to make this their year, and most importantly, their depth is what’s going to carry them past the finish line. It would be difficult for that starting eleven to haul the rest of the campaign on their already burdened shoulders. But luckily for Madrid, that starting eleven won’t have too with the likes of James, Isco and Marco Asensio showing that they are most certainly up to the task of getting a spot start and getting the job done (even if they desire more chances). Barcelona just don’t have that same depth with Paco and Andre Gomes being disappointing. They will run neck and neck for the duration of the season but each will win out with the exception of a draw for both sides. Madrid take La Liga by three points and win their first league title since 2012.