After thirty-one games played, although it looks more and more likely to culminate with a typical and the somewhat traditional two horse race between the traditional top two of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, it’d be unfair on both Atlético Madrid and Valencia to merely dismiss their efforts and success this season. Inevitably, due to the vast spending power of the El Clasico pairing, it’d take a number of factors for either Nuno Santo at Valencia or Diego Simeone to once again emulate his sides performance of last season and overthrow either the Catalan or Madrid outfit at the top of the table. But for me, that’s what makes La Liga special and so different to many other leagues not just in Europe but throughout the world. And with seven games to go, the neutral from the outside looking once again, would suggest that it’s nothing more than a two horse race but as we all know, anything can happen in football, especially Spanish football. I mean, who would really have been brave (and wise) enough to predict both the speed and the severity in which the Spanish side collapsed in the 2014 World Cup? Therefore, I’ve taken the time to have a look at each side specifically, profiling each side in the current top four order to not only let you make your own judgement of each side in particular, but to bring some much-needed light to the achievements of both Atlético Madrid and Valencia against the odds, in a league so often dominated by the two traditional titans of Spanish domestic football.
FC Barcelona (1st)
Played: 31 Won: 24, Drew: 3, Lost: 4, Points: 75
Despite losing a two-goal lead to draw at Sevilla recently, Barcelona are still favourites to the win La Liga for the 23rd time. Although Barca struggled to adapt to Enrique’s mass rotation earlier this season, they have finally found some consistency, particularly due to the fantastic form of forwards Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez and a resurgent Gerard Pique. All three players started the season relatively slowly, but it’s no surprise that they have clicked into gear in the pressure end of the season, therefore a treble of the La Liga, the Copa del Rey and Champions League is a strong possibility. Although FC Barcelona have been brilliant offensively since the turn of the year, the team still lacks balance, leading to questions of whether Luis Enrique has actually implemented tactics to get the best out of his squad. With the exciting front three allowed to stay high up the pitch, there has been a significant reliance of Iniesta, Rakitic and Busquets to defend central and wide areas on the pitch. This has especially been to the detriment of Iniesta’s form who has not been as decisive either with or without the ball this season. Whilst the midfield has been Barca’s weakest area, for me their front three led by a renascent Lionel Messi is sure to lead them to the La Liga title.
Real Madrid (2nd)
Played: 31 Won: 24, Drew: 1, Lost: 6, Points: 73
Although Real Madrid have displayed incredible football at times this season their flaws have been evident throughout. Lets start from the back. Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas has been abject for two years now and he simply no longer provides the much-needed confidence in their back-line, who despite obvious talents, concedes far too many chances to the opposition. The alarming rate of chances given to the opposition can also be highlighted in the Real midfield. The likes of Toni Kroos and Isco have had great seasons, but either in Madrid’s 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formations, they haven’t been able to manage the space in-between the lines, often leaving Ramos and Pepe exposed. Having said that, the returning influence of Luka Modric and James Rodriguez has improved the form of reigning Ballon D’or champion Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as both fellow attacking midfielder Gareth Bale and Frenchman Karim Benzema, as illustrated to perfection in their 8-1 win over Granada a fortnight ago. James’ inclusion is especially important, as he demonstrates better decision-making skills than the highly rated Isco who remains inconsistent with making the correct decisions. With Ronaldo and Bale both able scorers in the biggest games, it really is imperative that they get the right service. Inevitably, they will do with James and Modric in the side. Regardless of Real Madrid having the goals to make a surge for the title, the two intense Champions League encounters with Atlético could potentially have a negative impact on their league form.
Atletico Madrid (3rd)
Played: 31 Won: 20, Drew: 6, Lost: 5, Points: 66
This was always going to be the transitional season for the champions Atlético Madrid. They haven’t underachieved, yet definitely haven’t overachieved in regards to results and performances. In large sections of the 2014/15 season, manager Diego Simeone has had his side playing similar football to that of last season. But when top quality match-winners such as Thibaut Courtois and Diego Costa are no longer there to make the difference, then inevitably points will be lost much more often. Not only that, but opposition have often enjoyed targeting the left side where Jesus Gamez and Guilherme Siqueira play at left back, indicating that Atléti have also struggled without Filipe Luis’ defensive sturdiness. Despite Atlético’s problems, the intensity in which they perform at, still remains high and the quality around the team also remains at a high level. The prolific Antoine Griezmann, the reliable Diego Godin and the supremely talented Koke provide the core of the team and have excelled, whilst experienced heads such as Tiago has been in brilliant form for the last 18 months. It has generally been a mixed bag this season at Atléti; dropping points to Celta Vigo and Real Sociedad whilst drawing three consecutive games at the turn of the year, meaning that they’re fighting for a top four place, rather than mounting a title challenge. Centre-forward Mario Mandzukic clearly has not performed consistently and arguments with Simeone about his role in the team surely would suggest an inevitable departure in the summer. The impressive performances of January signing Fernando Torres have however eased such tensions as Atlético look to establish their top four status.
Played: 31 Won: 19, Drew: 8, Lost: 4, Points: 65
After pitiable recent seasons, thankfully for the good competition in Spanish football, Valencia finally look as if they can break into the top four again. After bolstering the squad this summer with noticeable additions such as Andre Gomes, Nicolas Otamendi, Shkodran Mustafi and recent signing Enzo Perez, the new owner Peter Lim has supplemented a good squad with important players who will make definitely prove the difference in the chase for Champions League football. It is no surprise that the new signings have inspired the excellent form of 19 year old left-back Jose Luis Gaya and midfield maestro, conductor and captain, Dani Parejo. Valencia have produced some fantastic performances this season, including the somewhat suprising wins against the Madrid duo at the Mestalla. But although manager Nuno Santo possesses a team with such a high-quality and an equally as strong balance to it which has helped them stay unbeaten in their last nine La Liga matches, Valencia still haven’t managed to challenge for the title at any certain stage this season. A particular weakness of this Valencia side is the lack of a prolific goal scorer. Alvaro Negredo hasn’t found his feet like he did so at Manchester City in the previous season whilst early season form man Paco Alcacer has also struggled to find the net on a consistent basis, although has impressed in other areas. Personally, I believe that if Valencia did have a prolific striker they would be far closer to Barcelona and Real Madrid in fighting for the title. Additionally, the lack of European football this season has left Valencia with only La Liga to focus on, so the fact that they don’t have a settled top four place as of yet may be a disappointment to their owner, although it does exemplify the competitiveness of yet another entertaining La Liga season.
Article written by: @DanielT29