Barça crack with Atleti on their backs – so is La Liga’s title race back on?

Luis Enrique’s side are making the local press sweat after back-to-back league defeats, writes Tim Stannard

Consistency is for wimps. And those who plan. And know stuff about things.

In Friday’s peek into the future, La Liga Loca largely breezed over the Big Three thinking that there wasn’t much going on over the weekend. That didn’t quite come to pass, so the post-round wrap-up (excusing Deportivo vs Las Palmas) is all about the big boys who are now involved in something resembling a title race again.

Elsewhere in La Primera, Villarreal continued to cling onto 4th, Celta hammered a perch into 5th, Betis got their much-needed win to all but secure safety, while the current bottom five managed just a point between them.

Barcelona need sofa time at business end of season

When what turned out to be the winning strike from Mikel Oyarzabal flew over Claudio Bravo’s head, there was a weary sigh from La Liga Loca.

It’s not that the blog has anything particular invested in the futures of the three clubs competing in the title race, it’s just that there was yet another pain-in-the-bum name to spell and then check. It’s the same ruffled response whenever Sevilla’s Timothée Kolodziejczak does anything of note.

But on the positive side, the victory puts Barcelona in the ‘worth writing about’ column again in La Liga, a reverse of the situation when the Catalan club were steamrollering towards the league title.

The shoes are still very much on Catalan feet with six games to go – it must be remembered that Real Madrid are still not that good, although Atlético Madrid are wonderfully persistent. However, the main concern in the Barcelona press is the concept of the squad needing to curl up on the sofa with a blanket at completely the wrong point, after eight points were dropped from the last nine available.

Lionel Messi, Real Sociedad

Messi hasn't netted in his last four Barça games

“What’s worrying is the sensation that the team showed an image of physical and mental fatigue,” fretted Ernest Folch in Sport. Upcoming games against Atlético Madrid and Valencia certainly aren’t going to help that situation.

Atlético win. Again. It’s what they do

Blooming marvellous. By far the only way that LLL can think of describing Atlético Madrid in Cornella on Saturday, to prove that Diego Simeone is no walking cliché when claiming that the team only looks towards the next challenge and never, ever beyond that.

There was no hint of any of the team’s big hitters being rested ahead of Wednesday’s rematch at Barcelona, with the Torres-Carrasco-Griezmann trio lining up when it would have been an awful lot safer to rest the two members of that trident who aren’t suspended on Wednesday.

Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid

Griezmann racked up Liga goal No.20 at Espanyol

Indeed, Koke or Gabi might have been sent to the stands for a rest in the 3-1 win at Espanyol as well, but Simeone wasn’t having any of it. That’s why Atlético Madrid are just three points from the all-powerful Barcelona. “We are intense, persistent and keep on fighting,” growled Simeone, a manager who may now fancy completing a City of Barcelona double this week.

Real Madrid in ghost game ahead of season-defining denouement

If Real Madrid supporters were to sing “can we play you every week?” to visiting supporters, it wouldn’t be through any sense of sarcasm – life is an awful lot easier for the Santiago Bernabéu club when the likes of Eibar roll in and are done and dusted within 10 minutes.

Life is a little bit tougher in the real world away from home, or in the Champions League when the football path is a more challenging.

In isolation the win meant absolutely nothing for Real Madrid. It was merely a good chance to rest half the squad ahead of the Wolfsburg rematch on Tuesday, and a new opportunity for CR7 to bond with players he once suggested were lesser to his overall grandeur.

Instead it was the Barcelona result which upset the applecart to give Real Madrid a glimmer of hope that their season won’t be completely over should a comeback not materialise in the Champions League. If Madrid can remain flawless over their remaining matches of the season, all it takes is for another Barça slip to make La Liga very interesting indeed.  

Faith in fans pays off for Valencia

Valencia asked an awful lot from their fans on Sunday in the home clash against Sevilla. That favour was repaid – but only just.

The supporters came to cheer them up during training. They came to cheer the players as they arrived at the ground. They even cheered them during the match – nearly unheard of in Mestalla, and probably quite a trauma for some.

At 1-0 up with four minutes remaining, following a free-kick from the much-maligned Dani Parejo, it seemed like all that warmth from the stands was going to pay off. But then Kevin Gameiro equalised to throw a few chickens under the bus of fate. Fortunately, Alvaro Negredo was on hand to poke home a free-kick scramble in injury time to move Valencia away from the relegation zone.

Paco Ayestaran

Stand-in boss Ayestaran oversaw Valencia's first league win in five

“If you have confidence in them, they have confidence in you,” said a relieved Valencia manager Paco Ayestarán, who might actually be looking forward to next weekend’s trip to the Camp Nou after Sunday’s result

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