“THE END.” That’s how one Catalan sports newspaper decided to describe Real Madrid’s draw at Málaga last weekend. The dropping of two points in coastal Andalusia put Real Madrid nine points back of La Liga leaders Barcelona and a point off second place from their local adversary, Atlético de Madrid. But even though the press may have written off los blancos’ title challenge this season, Barcelona fans will be curious about goings-on in the capital this Saturday because they’ve been placed in a very peculiar position.
Tomorrow is el derbi madrileño. But Barcelona will know that if Atleti win, they’ll keep pace in the league should Luis Enrique’s team beat Sevilla at home on Sunday. But if their hated foe Real Madrid win, it would increase the slack at the top of the table between Barcelona and second place by one point, creating a nine point gap between first and second where it was previously eight points between Barcelona and Diego Simeone’s Atlético. That’s a full three game cushion and Barcelona boast the first La Liga tiebreaker over Real, head-to-head (Barcelona beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu 0-4 earlier this season). So essentially Real would need Barcelona, a team that hasn’t lost in their last 33 fixtures, to lose four in La Liga before the end of the season while they, Real Madrid, stay perfect. Big ask.
That being said, the last team to beat the mighty Barcelona are Sevilla, this weekend’s opposition. But even a loss wouldn’t put Barcelona in panic mode, considering they’ve already played their most difficult away fixtures in the first half of the season. Barcelona have already gone away to Real Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla, Atleti, and Bilbao. Of course, the best case scenario of the weekend for the blaugrana would be for a draw at the Bernabéu tomorrow. If Barcelona take full points on Sunday, that would put a 10 point void between second place Atleti and themselves.
The new task for Luis Enrique’s men won’t be so much the league opposition in the remainder of the domestic campaign, but more so balancing the thick schedule of fixtures as they aim to repeat the treble. To assume the league is sewn up would be a dangerous mentality and could produce damage of a collateral nature in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. You wouldn’t bet on that, though.
In conclusion, we’ll leave you with this. If Barcelona repeat the treble, is the current team better than the legendary Pep (Guardiola) team of 2008-12?