If any of you have ever seen The Departed (no spoilers here), do you remember that part in the elevator where you thought it was about to end well and then it suddenly didn’t end well at all? With this win over Atlético Madrid on Sunday, La Liga has become that elevator scene. And yes, Real Madrid also won against Villareal, but they were anything but convincing – and once again, dubious referee decisions (yes, again) allowed Real back into the match. FC Barcelona are closing up the gap, and Sevilla don’t appear to be going anywhere. While this ain’t Boston, that elevator scene might be playing out over the next few weeks.
The Liga table currently stands at 1. Real Madrid, 55 points 2. Barcelona, 54 points 3. Sevilla, 52 points. Rounding out the top 5 are Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad. Atleti played a great match, especially in the first 30 minutes. Their defense was as tough as Barça fans as we’re accustomed to. However, Barcelona still won 2-1 (which seems to be a theme, according to Diego Simeone). In the second half, Barcelona turned it up, got on the counterattack, and was able to solidify the defense a bit. Playing with three at the back helped tremendously. Barcelona made a statement with a drastically different second half.
Meanwhile, Madrid went down 2-0 to Villareal and were gifted two goals by the refereeing. While they did fight back admirably to make it 2-1, the fact is Real Madrid won a game they had no business winning. Sevilla won 2-1 against Real Betis, a result that isn’t entirely surprising given their form this season under Jorge Sampaoli. Rounding out the top 5 are Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad, with Athletic Bilbao, Celta, and Villareal also having good seasons. Valencia’s form of late has been getting better, but they continue to be slightly dysfunctional. Eibar, the little guys that don’t give up, are having another impressive season as well.
But don’t be fooled: This is a three-horse race right now, and it’s still February. Anything can still happen.
Over the upcoming months, Madrid’s schedule isn’t easy, but it isn’t particularly hard. They play Las Palmas, Napoli, Bilbao, and Atleti before the Clasico on April 23rd. Sevilla play Bilbao, Leicester City, Atleti, Barcelona and Valencia. Barcelona’s only league competition before el Clásico is the aforementioned match against Sevilla. In terms of Liga schedules, Barça has the easiest route.
Let’s not mince words here. Barcelona haven’t been their usual selves so far this season, and Luis Enrique’s been under a lot of criticism- with good reason. But despite Barcelona’s poor play, they’re just one point back from Madrid and one ahead of Sevilla. On top of this, Madrid have struggled so far too. They’ve already lost more games in 2017 than all of 2016 and it’s only February. Sevilla are a good team but not without their flaws, as they can sometimes struggle to score (like Atleti). None of the teams so far this season have been particularly good. The only reason Sevilla has had such praise heaped upon them because of the improvement from seasons past.
As an aside here, Gerard Piqué’s posting about lucky breaks for Madrid is totally justified. Against Villareal, a penalty that wasn’t a penalty was given them, as well as a foul that wasn’t called that led directly to a third goal. By my count, Madrid have won four games they shouldn’t have. Barcelona were robbed of a goal that was clearly past the line against Betis, and Luis Suárez’s “foul” against Jan Oblak last match took that goal away. Piqué’s statement that Madrid have had help in winning as much as they have is, in my opinion, correct.
Contra los mismos equipos. 8 puntos. 8 y tal. Los recortes son de prensa de Madrid por la duda. pic.twitter.com/nZUDgrjuVd
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) February 26, 2017
Barcelona showed something against Atleti we hadn’t seen, either. With Piqué, Samuel Umtiti and Jérémy Mathieu playing three at the back, Sergi Roberto was added to the midfield in the second half. Because of this, there was another option in the midfield and all of a sudden Barcelona were able to break the pressure of Atleti and control more of the game. When Roberto went out for André Gomes, the scheme didn’t change. The midfield that had been the problem all year under Luis Enrique suddenly didn’t look so bad anymore. Hopefully he will learn from this experience and change tactics accordingly as the year goes on.
It’s only February. Anything can happen in La Liga. Before I close, let me leave you with a short story. On March 12, 2016, FC Barcelona beat Getafe 6-0 and opened up an 11-point lead over Real Madrid. They ended up winning La Liga that season by… 1 point. The moral of the story is that nothing’s over until it’s over. I don’t pretend to know what will happen, but Barcelona and Sevilla are right up there with Real Madrid. Real are the leaders, Barcelona found something last match that might just work, and Sevilla aren’t going to give up. In this elevator scene, it’s going to be an interesting ride down.