After briefly dropping to second in the table, Atlético Madrid crawled their way back to the top of La Liga with a 1-1 draw against Real Betis on Sunday. Despite the win, recent form makes Real Madrid favourites to win La Liga.
An early close-range goal from Yannick Carrasco gave Atléti the lead but was cancelled out 15 minutes later by a left-footed volley from Cristian Tello.
Real Betis had the best of the chances for the remainder of the match, with Jan Oblak having to make several high-quality saves to keep Los Colchoneros level. Atléti had a few chances of their own in the second half but failed to capitalise on them.
Overall, Diego Simeone will be thankful for the point and to take a narrow lead into the final eight matchdays of the season. With 67 points, Atlético Madrid are one point clear of Real Madrid and two above Barcelona. Sevilla round out the top four with 58 points and a game in hand.
Recent Form and a Favourable Run-In Makes Real Madrid Favourites in La Liga Race
Real Madrid Favourites to Secure a 45 Title
Despite missing several key figures, Real Madrid managed to hold off Barcelona and win 2-1 at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium in the torrential rain on Saturday.
The hard-fought win was Real Madrid’s fourth in a row and extended their unbeaten streak in La Liga to ten matches, in which they have conceded only six goals and kept four clean sheets. Over the same period, Real Madrid have also scored 18 times with seven different goal scorers.
The return of Eden Hazard and Dani Carvajal before next weekend’s match against Getafe is also likely to bolster the team’s attack, even as they lose Lucas Vázquez for the rest of the season and will be without Casemiro for the next two weeks.
Of the three title contenders, Real Madrid also have, perhaps, the easiest run-in.
Four of their remaining eight matches come against teams that are comfortably mid-table with low chances of reaching European qualifying places and few fears of being dragged into the relegation scrap.
Of the remaining four matches, one is against Sevilla, who are 11 points clear of fifth place with a game in hand and may have very little to play for by the time they meet in May.
Next week’s match against relegation-threatened Getafe may be one of the toughest. Two home games against Real Betis and Villareal, both of which are competing with Real Sociedad for a Europa League group stage qualification birth and Europa Conference League play-off spot, will also be competitive.
Outlook Remains Positive for Barcelona Despite El Classico Setback
After Real Madrid, the bookies cannot seem to separate Barcelona and Atlético Madrid.
Having lost their first domestic double to Real Madrid since 2008, Barcelona appear to have a slightly tougher run-in than their historical rivals.
Undoubtedly the standout fixture will be the May 9 clash with Atlético Madrid at the Nou Camp. However, Barcelona will also have to travel to seventh-placed Villareal next week and visit relegation-threatened SD Eibar on the last week of the season.
Eibar are currently bottom of the table but just four points away from safety. Depending on how results work out, match week 38 could be a do-or-die moment for the Basque club, which ground out a 1-1 draw in the Nou Camp last December.
With almost all of their key players healthy and teenage sensation Ansu Fati returning to the fold at the end of the month, Barcelona still have good odds to win La Liga. Saturday’s loss to Real Madrid was their first league defeat in 20 matches.
After their shaky start to the season, Barcelona have kicked on with far better defensive performances in the league and plenty of goals coming from all over the pitch.
“Of course, we’re still upbeat and optimistic because we’ve produced a serious performance,” head coach Ronald Koeman told reporters after the loss. “We are fighting. We lost a match against a team who are fighting to win the league, but there are [eight] matches and all the matches are important for the three best teams.
“It’s difficult for all three of us,” he added. “We will come back. We will fight until the last match.”
Atléti Continue to Stumble and Show no Signs of Turning it Around
After enjoying a ten-point lead at the end of January, things have fallen apart for Atético Madrid, with plenty of challenges still to come.
The injury to Luis Suárez saw the team struggle offensively against Betis at the weekend. A lack of creativity in the midfield meant chances came few and far between. When they did arise, Ángel Correa was unable to convert them.
Even before this latest injury news, Atléti had been struggling offensively. Since the start of February, Los Colchoneros have scored just 11 goals in 11 games. Only three times has the team scored more than once in a match and they also have been held goalless on three occasions.
Simeone’s defence has failed him as well, with the team only managing to keep four clean sheets in 2021. By comparison, in the first 14 games of the campaign, Los Colchoneros conceded in just four matches.
Of the three title contenders, Atléti also have the toughest run-in, arguably, with three matches against relegation-threatened teams in the next four weeks, followed by the away match against Barcelona and a home game against Real Sociedad.
However, first up for Atléti are Eibar. Los Colchoneros narrowly defeated the Basque club at the end of January, with Suárez scoring both goals.
After Eibar comes Huesca. The Aragon-based club sit just one point above the relegation zone but held Atléti to a scoreless draw back in September.
While they still lead La Liga and will likely have Suárez back for the matches against Barcelona and Real Sociedad, it will take a stunning turn around for the club to hold on and win the title.
However, this is a position that Simeone relishes, having ground out results in the last eight weeks of Atléti’s triumphant 2013/14 campaign to hold on to their narrow league lead.
“We are in a moment of resistance,” Simeone said after Atléti’s draw. “Resist, that’s a word that appeals to me. Resist, like all of society in these difficult times.”