Three of Spanish football’s crème-de-la-crème – Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid – have been involved in a three-horse title race this season, and despite Ronald Korman’s Barça falling off the cliff towards the penultimate stretch of the campaign, it has been nothing short of breathtaking.
While most other top leagues around Europe already know their champions-elect, it has gone down to the wire in Spain. This season’s title will be decided on the final weekend of the season, with some interesting fixtures to look forward to.
From start to finish, Atletico Manager, Diego Simeone has been very vocal about his team’s outlook; “a game at a time,” and it is going to be the case again on match day 38, with the Mattress Makers now only a win shy of claiming their first La Liga crown since 2014. The Wanda Metropolitano landlords, who have been top of the standings since Christmas, need to beat Real Valladolid on Saturday to reach the promise land.
Even though they have stayed top of the table since December, there have been twists and turns, but Simeone’s men have stuck to their mantra. They sit only two points above a desperate Real Madrid team with only two points separating them.
Having suffered European heartbreak in the hands of Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final, Real Madrid risk going this season without silverware. A rarity under their serial winner of a manager Zinedine Zidane.
To stand any chance at defending the title they won last season, Zidane’s men need to beat high flying Villarreal at home.
The Yellow Submarines are caught in a three-team tussle to finish in a Europa League spot – fifth or sixth – with the seventh placed team set to drop into the new and less commercially viable Europa Conference League.
According to manager Unai Emery, his team “will have one eye on the Manchester United game” in the Europa League in four days time, knowing that a win will all but secure a Champions League spot for next season.
Atletico would save themselves the stress of the calculators and permutations by securing an outright win as a draw would see both teams tied on points, which would ultimately see Real crowned champions based on their superior head-to-head record.
As mentioned earlier, the story of Atletico’s season has been about taking it a game at a time and they will relish the situation. They will go into the game knowing they need to absolutely kick whatever is in front of them to claim three precious points.
Atletico Madrid vs Valladolid: Two teams on the opposite ends of a cigar
While Luis Suarez’s stoppage-time winner against Osasuna last weekend saw Atletico ensure they still have their destiny in their own hands, Valladolid were flirting with relegation. By now they might have been preparing for life in the Segunda Division already had results from other centers gone against them, but instead the De Lima Ronaldo-owned outfit are in a thug of war alongside two others; Huesca and Elche, in the race to finish above the relegation places in 17th.
Both Huesca and Elche are two points clear of Valladolid, and the trio are all above relegated Eibar and below Getafe who have beaten the drop.
This means that Valladolid would need to pull off an unlikely win against Atletico and that can be tricky in terms of how they approach the game. Sitting back and defending all-game will most likely not be the focus. They need all three points and that means they will try to attack, at least at some point during the game, and that could work to Atletico’s advantage.
Veteran striker Luis Suarez bagged the winner in the 88th minute to complete a comeback against Osasuna last weekend, and that only sent one message across to their rivals; that this team, despite a few hiccups here and there towards the end of the season, are proving to have in their arsenal, the mentality and swagger required of a championship winning team.
Although Simeone admits that “anxiety exists” among his players, he believes his 10 years of experience as the club’s manager means he is now in a better position to help his players stay in the best mental shape possible to avoid them having to crumble under pressure, as they have so often done since their last triumph seven years ago.
Real Madrid on the other hand also won at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday to keep the pressure on and stretch the title race into the final day of the season.
Whether or not Real end up champions remains to be seen, but manager Zinedine Zidane seems to be heading towards the exit door regardless whatever happens. Barcelona’s Ronald Koeman also faces a similar situation with the club being linked with a move for outgoing Bayern Munich gaffer Hansi Flick.
These past few weeks towards the end of the season has seen the Blaugrana miss some glorious chances to take the initiative and climb into top spot on the table. They could yet finish outside of the top three if they lose to Eibar and Sevilla get the better of Alaves on Sunday.
The scramble for a Europa League slot is still alive, with fifth placed Real Sociedad only a point better off Real Betis and Villarreal. Real Sociedad will be on the road at Osasuna’s El Sadar stadium, while Betis will make the short trip to face Celta Vigo.
Elche need to trump Huesca, who will be at the Mestalla to take on Valencia, by recording a better result, while Valladolid are faced with the herculean task of getting the ‘W’ over Atletico and hoping that results from elsewhere go in their favour.
In the end there will be winners and losers and all I can say is may the best win.
- Levante 2-2 Cadiz
- Celta Vigo 18:00 Real Betis
- Eibar 18:00 Barcelona
- Huesca 18:00 Valencia
- Osasuna 18:00 Real Sociedad
- Real Madrid 18:00 Villarreal
- Real Valladolid 18:00 Atletico Madrid
- Elche 18:00 Athletic Bilbao
- Granada 18:30 Getafe
- Sevilla 21:00 Alaves
All times are subject to change and set in west-central African format
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Mubarak Mohammed Zakari He prefers to be known not as just a Sports Journalist; but as a "modern broadcaster" because of his ability to create content for visual, audio and print media. He co-hosts a football podcast with a growing audience from 17 countries across the globe.