Sunday, February 8, 2015

La Liga title race set to be another thriller

Spain's La Liga arguably had the most thrilling title race and climax amongst all the major European leagues last season. There were three teams in the race on the penultimate weekend. Real Madrid dropped out after a loss to Celta Vigo, leaving Atletico Madrid and Barcelona to duke it out in a title decider at the Camp Nou. The title was on a knife edge, with Atletico needing a draw to win their first title since 1996 while Barcelona needed to win. Alexis Sanchez gave Barcelona the lead, but Atletico stormed back in the second half getting the deserved equalizer and with it the championship after an exciting campaign.

As Real Madrid were breaking all sorts of records during a fantastic winning run earlier this season, it seemed that Los Blancos were going to run away with the title this time around. Barca and Atleti both stuttered while Real were battering every team that came in their way. Since January though, Barcelona and Atletico have been in fine fettle while Real have suffered two defeats and were arguably lucky to scrape a few wins in some recent tricky encounters.

This weekend could end up being a defining one in terms of the title race. First of all, Los Colchoneros thrashed Real 4-0 in the Madrid derby. It was a thorough performance from Diego Simeone's men as they dominated from start to finish. Rare have been the occasions when Carlo Ancelotti has suffered such a comprehensive defeat since he took over the reigns at the Bernabeu. Atletico now have the Indian sign over their city rivals. Since Real's historic win in the Champions League final, the Spanish champions have done the double over their opponents in the league, beat them in the Copa Del Ray as well as the Spanish Super Cup. Such a sequence of results were unthinkable for Atletico before Simeone took charge.

There may be psychological repercussions for Real, but of more immediate concern is the fact that Atleti are now only four points behind them. To add more intrigue into the race, Barcelona went away to Athletic Bilbao and won 5-2 in an excellent display of attacking football. That result means Barcelona - a team meant to be in crisis - are now only a point behind their rivals. Luis Enrique may well have many problems to sort out, but what is evident now is that Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez are on the same wavelength. With an attacking trio of such brilliance, many flaws can be negated against most teams in La Liga.

All this means that fans of La Liga and Spanish football can look forward to another fantastic climax to the season. There is enough brilliance and variety in all three teams for them to come out on top. Will it be Ancelotti's serenity and intelligence, Simeone's fire and passion or Enrique's attacking triangles that will prevail? We'll just have to wait and see. Don't take your eyes off La Liga!