What a brutal way to celebrate Atlético de Madrid’s birthday. Founded on April 26, 1903, they played exactly as they did 118 years ago: full of tiresome mistakes, moments of forgetfulness on the part of the “older” members of the squad, and expressions of bewilderment in the 2-1 defeat on their visit to the Athletic de Bilbao on Sunday night.
This result gives us the closest and most exciting fight to four teams since La Liga de España became a circuit made up of 20 clubs a quarter of a century ago.
In case you just learned the result without taking a look at the top of the title race, we find a staggering Atleti scoring 73 points; the defending champion Real Madrid with 71, a Barcelona that suddenly became favorites (with one game less) and that has 71 units (although it is below Madrid due to the record of its direct confrontation, after having lost both Classics) and the ultra black horse that is fast approaching from the sides: Sevilla FC, with 70 points.
The positive news for Atleti (and much needed, for heaven’s sake) is that on only three occasions since 1997, when the season began to 38 games after the reduction of La Liga from 22 to 20 clubs, the leading team lost its advantage with five games left to play, to say “goodbye” to the title through tears.
The first time a leading Spanish La Liga team gave up after 33 games, to fall flat on their faces and pray that they would never be reminded of the aberration; It was in 2002, when Real Madrid, which then had Vicente del Bosque in the technical direction, and a squad made up of none other than Zinedine Zidane, took advantage of Rafa Benítez and Valencia at the beginning of April; solely and exclusively thanks to a higher goal difference.
However, the horrible defeats suffered at the hands of Real Sociedad, Osasuna and Deportivo La Coruña caused the Whites to fall into a downward spiral that only stopped when, after finishing third in their national circuit, they lifted the Champions League title in Hampden. , prevailing over Bayer Leverkusen.
Not bad for a consolation prize.
The second implosion occurred a year later. Poor Deportivo La Coruña (do you remember them?) Had an advantage over Real Sociedad in their direct confrontation and had one more unit than Madrid, which occupied the third box, after playing all 33 games of that campaign.
However, by June 22 (yes, that used to be the moment when it was REALLY defined who would end up with the Spanish league title!) Del Bosque, Zidane and the dazzling partnership between Ronaldo Nazario and Raúl González far surpassed La Real, with a Deportivo that ended up dying in third place.
And the other time, at least so far, when a league leader awarded the title just 450 minutes into the season, was when the wheels of Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona wagon were about to come off in 2007.
The Barça of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Lilian Thuram, Deco, Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi had two points of advantage over Madrid after playing Date 33 of the championship. However, they punctured drawing 1-1 at home with Real Betis, conceding a goal in the last minute to Brazilian winger Rafa Sobis, in front of 78,000 irate Blaugrana fans at the Camp Nou.
And that was it.
The culés and Fabio Capello’s Madrid matched results, staying head to head until the end of the dramatic last day; which meant that, with a tie at 76 points per side, the meringues were champions thanks to their best performance in the Spanish Classic that season.
It is obvious that the fact that such collapses so close to the finish line are so unusual does not confer any guarantee that we are not close to seeing a fourth member of that group of clubs terribly embarrassed: “The Gang of Almost … . But Close “.
Atleti, even if only narrowly, continues to depend on itself in its fight for the title.
If the colchoneros prevail in all the games that remain to be played, they will win the league. Simple as that.
This is because, despite the fact that the tireless machinery of Ronald Koeman and promoted by Messi (who has added 46 out of 51 possible points since the end of last December) has a greater chance of beating Granada this Thursday at the Camp Nou to occupy the lead with just one point advantage; There is still a weekend of great games pending for the beginning of May, when Madrid receives a visit from Sevilla and Atleti travels to the field of Barcelona.
If, in some way, Diego “Cholo” Simeone is capable of awakening his “Sleeping Beauty” squad, instilling a certain fighting spirit and making Luis Suárez once again show his acute instinct in attack and score goals, a victory at Camp Nou is not completely out of reach.
How much would the combative Uruguayan “Gunman” love to take revenge on Koeman for that phone call last summer in which the Dutchman told Suárez that there was plenty of staff, following orders from the currently deposed and discredited Josep María Bartomeu? I think you can imagine how much you want it.
The rojiblancos have not beaten Barcelona at the Camp Nou since February 2006; however, even a draw (which they have reached in three of their seven most recent visits) could be enough, if Koeman’s squad falters in their upcoming (slightly more accessible) commitments, especially next weekend at the Mestalla.
However, the hesitant and timid progress of Atleti, which has only won the Spanish league title twice since 1977, is not the only remarkable facet of the 2020-21 season on the great circuit of the Iberian country.
The difference in points between the leader Atleti and Sevilla, which occupies the fourth place in the table, is just three units. Something amazing when placed in its proper context.
Not only is it the closest match in any of Europe’s top leagues by significant margin (with a respectful nod to the four-man fight to take the Ligue 1 lead in France); rather, it means a fundamental change against the trend that we have seen in Spain over the last 24 years.
On thirteen occasions at this stage of the season, we had seen a difference between first and fourth places of at least fifteen units. And if you want to think in absolute extremes, when Madrid or Barça played overwhelming football, the gap between first and fourth has been (specifically in 2012, 2011 and 2010) of 35, 31 and 29 points, respectively.
Is it a very competitive or mediocre league this year in Spain?
Miguel Ángel Briseño analyzes the frenzied closure involving four teams for the LaLiga title.
At the time of writing this note, if we drop 35 units from the leader Atleti, we arrive at Levante, owner of position 12, which has only obtained one victory in its last nine games, and is nine units ahead of the three! last!
A truly remarkable plot twist, when compared to most of the previous seasons.
The colchoneros, who cannot be considered a surprise at all thanks to their two recent appearances in Champions League finals, a league title and a Europa League in the last seven years; They seem to give up due to fear, exhaustion, or both factors at the same time.
I think a lot of neutral supporters will roar cheering for Sevilla. The Andalusian club is three points below the La Liga lead; site where they normally require crampons, ropes, a sherpa and oxygen to climb, considering that they have not obtained the Spanish first division title since the 1945-46 season, just after the conclusion of World War II.
However, the team brilliantly assembled by DT Julen Lopetegui has obtained victory in five consecutive games; And although they will travel to Valdebebas to face Real Madrid on May 9, they appear to be the freshest team with the fewest distractions: the title challengers with the best momentum.
Will the arbitration take revenge for the Super League?
Rodrigo Faez explains the Madrid environment before the Champions League.
Of course, this is where the characteristic (albeit pleasant) head-to-head rule that often defines many tournaments in Spain comes into play.
If two teams finish with the same number of points, anywhere on the La Liga table, they separate based on who has the best overall result against the other.
If the direct confrontation yields the same score, then the team with the best goal difference throughout the campaign will win.
Currently, Atleti beat Barcelona 1-0 in their only match so far this tournament, and a win or draw on May 8 at the Camp Nou would give them a definitive advantage in the direct confrontation. The colchoneros lose in their confrontation with Madrid; although they have a 2-1 advantage on aggregate against Sevilla.
At this time, Sevilla does not win in their direct confrontations with the rest of the first four teams in the league table; However, that could change this May 9 in Madrid if they manage to beat the meringues 2-0 at Alfredo Di Stefano (after losing 1-0 to the meringues at Sánchez-Pizjuán in December).
Barça is at a disadvantage in their direct confrontation with Madrid, they beat Sevilla and balance their scores with their 1-0 defeat against Atleti; in the absence of the great clash between blaugranas and mattresses scheduled for two dates.
For this reason, those who have always complained when Madrid or Barcelona show such genius and power, to the point that the fight for the league title always remains between both teams at the end of April; It is time to step back and savor the current situation; although accepting the fact that the two giants of Spain are required to suffer tremors, stagnation and crisis so that the rest can be located at a short distance, as is the case today.
The countdown starts. Atleti seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown; Madrid appear to have as their number 1 priority winning the Champions League; Barcelona seems to be a strong favorite (within what could be, pound for pound, one of their most surprising victories in pursuit of the league title), and Sevilla remains, undoubtedly, the favorite of the neutral supporter to give the surprise in Spain, surprise the whole world and see if, really, they have the necessary measure to occupy the throne of La Liga.