A pivotal weekend in Spain?

Atletico Madrid 1-2 Barcelona

Villarreal 2-3 Real Madrid

It had the makings of a pivotal weekend in Spain’s top division this week. With Barcelona heading to the Calderon to face Atletico and Real heading to the Estadio de la Ceramica to play Villrreal, the top two faced very difficult challenges.

Barca, still recovering from the 4-0 hammering they took from PSG in the Champions League a couple of weeks ago, faced the toughest challenge. In recent seasons, Simeone’s Atletico have mixed it with Europe’s elite and held their own.

During the game, Barca and Enrique mixed it up. 3-4-3 when attacking and 4-4-2 when defending, they looked thoroughly prepared and seemed capable of switching formations and styles when necessary – something which has been lacking from them over the past month or so. At full time, it looked all too familiar – Messi with a late, late goal to secure the three points and the Catalan giants marched on. However, it was far from the case. Atletico looked dangerous, with Griezmann and the support cast causing plenty of issues for the Barcelona back line. The away side had their chances too and were thwarted by the excellent Jan Oblak in the Atletico goal a number of times before Messi latched on to a rebound in the Atletico box to slide home. All eyes were on Zidane’s men to see if they could restore their 1 point lead at the top of the table.

They did exactly that, but goodness me was it close. The surprise defeat against Valencia last time out had clearly affected the side from the capital, with Real going 2-0 down to the very impressive Villarreal. However, champions dig out results when their backs are against the wall and that’s exactly what happened in this fixture, with goals from Gareth Bale, Ronaldo from the penalty spot and Alvaro Morata, who game by game is making a stronger and stronger case to replace Benzema in the starting eleven.

The win at Villarreal ensured that Real went back to the top of the table, a point clear of Barcelona, also having a game in hand over their Catalan rivals. However, both teams have tricky looking fixtures to play in the run-in, with Real Madrid in particular having several difficult looking games and with European football seemingly over for Barcelona for this season, their squad should be fresher and better prepared.

Real Madrid’s key games in the run-in

18 March – Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid

9 April – Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid

23 April – Real Madrid v Barcelona

14 May – Real Madrid v Sevilla

Barcelona’s key games in the run-in

5 April – Barcelona v Sevilla

23 April – Real Madrid v Barcelona

30 April – Espanyol v Barcelona

A quick mention should also go to Sevilla, who are also in with a shout of lifting the trophy in May. Well drilled under Sampaoli, a ridiculously attacking approach and with both Barcelona and Real Madrid to play in the last few games, they will have a massive part to play.

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