Is this the worst LaLiga title race in memory? Ahead of vital El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, season has been defined by slip-ups, top players are out with season-ending injuries… and Atletico Madrid are nowhere to be seen
- Barcelona and Real Madrid – LaLiga’s top two sides – face off on Sunday night
- The winner of El Clasico will go a long way to deciding who lifts title this season
- It has been far from a classic season with slip-ups and injuries at every turn
- Atletico Madrid are well off the pace having scored just 28 goals in the top flight
It has been a season to forget for Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of the LaLiga table. As it stands, the former are top by two points, but much of the reason for their position is the slip-ups from elsewhere rather than their own impressive form.
The top two sides in the division have six defeats between them, with Barcelona already falling to more losses this season than in the entirety of the last campaign. Real, meanwhile, have lost fewer matches but have drawn a monumental eight games – against the likes of Celta Vigo, Real Betis and Real Valladolid.
So where has it all gone wrong for the division’s two sporting giants? Ahead of Real Madrid hosting Barcelona in the second Clasico of the season on Sunday night, Sportsmail takes a look…
Zinedine Zidane is back in the hotseat at Real Madrid but it hasn’t been an impressive season
As mentioned above, there have been plenty of slips and trips, allowing their rivals to leapfrog them in the table. Just last week, Real Madrid inexplicably lost on the road at Levante to allow Barcelona back above them, while previous defeats for Barca at Granada, Levante and Valencia have done much the same.
In the week before their defeat at Levante, Real Madrid led Celta Vigo 2-1 heading into the final few minutes before throwing away a late goal and two points in their title tilt.
In truth, both teams’ form has been far from ideal as they head into the home straight of the LaLiga season.
Levante have downed both Barcelona and Real Madrid at their Ciutat de Valencia home
Real Madrid players react after watching Levante score a late winner in their game last week
When you think back to El Clasico clashes of the past, your mind wanders to huge head-to-heads in the dugout as often as on-field drama.
Pep Guardiola vs Jose Mourinho, Bobby Robson vs Fabio Capello, Louis van Gaal vs Vicente del Bosque… over the years, so many of the great and good in world football have cemented their place in El Clasico history.
This season, Quique Setien vs Zinedine Zidane isn’t quite as impressive. Yes, Zidane has fantastic history and his first spell in charge of Los Blancos was incredibly memorable, but his second stint hasn’t been anywhere near as impressive.
Setien, meanwhile, is yet to win a major trophy in his entire managerial career. With all due respect, he has impressed with promotions at the likes of Racing Santander and Lugo, while he is fondly remembered by Beticos for his spell at the Benito-Villamarin.
But it’s not Barca-level fame, and he has a long way to go to reach the level of some of his predecessors in the Nou Camp dugout.
Quique Setien is respected but is not of the same calibre as some previous Barcelona bosses
This tie has seen some of the greatest players in world football take to the stage. Barcelona have had Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Johan Cruyff… while Real Madrid count Cristiano Ronaldo, Alfredo Di Stefano and Raul among their past greats.
This season, it’s different. Yes, Lionel Messi will still line up for Barca but there are far fewer top-level players at those clubs than there have been in previous years. Although some emerging talents may yet prosper, this is not vintage El Clasico.
Barcelona may look to new signing Martin Braithwaite off the bench, the Middlesbrough flop arriving on an emergency deal last week. Luka Jovic, meanwhile, is pushing for a start for Real… he has two goals all season despite costing £54m when he joined last year.
Martin Braithwaite is likely to feature for Barcelona, following injuries to a number of star men
Atletico nowhere to be seen
Spanish football has changed a lot over the last few years, most noticeably with the arrival of Atletico Madrid to the top table. Diego Simeone has turned them into a force to be reckoned with, and they even won the title in 2013-14.
Perhaps, then, it is harsh to hit out at them for being fourth this season, given their relatively new status as a great of the Spanish game, but after their second-placed finish in each of the last two seasons, it has been an underwhelming campaign.
They sit 10 points behind Real Madrid and 12 behind Barcelona, effectively ruling them out of the title race barring plenty more of those aforementioned slip-ups.
Atletico haven’t scored anywhere near enough goals. In fact, Barcelona have more than DOUBLED their tally, and city rivals Real have netted 18 more despite a disappointing campaign of their own.
Simeone will surely bounce back and get his team back to their title-challenging best, but the lack of Los Colchoneros at the top this season has sparked a pretty underwhelming title race.
Diego Simeone is nowhere to be seen in the LaLiga title race this year as his Atletico struggle
Big games need big players, and there was none better than Cristiano Ronaldo. His match-winning mentality, star quality and rivalry with Lionel Messi gave the Clasico an extra edge, and he has been conspicuous in his absence since leaving for Juve.
He is breaking record upon record in Serie A and Real Madrid are not the only ones who are missing him. LaLiga and, in truth, Barcelona also miss him, and the Clasico has not been the same since he boarded a flight to Turin.
Of course, Messi and Ronaldo’s rivalry still continues and they are still the best two players on the planet, but when they were in such close quarters and playing each other on a regular basis the Clasico was a far, far easier sell.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a big miss for Real Madrid, as well as to LaLiga and rivals Barcelona
This season’s title race has not been helped by the sheer number of injuries suffered by all the teams fighting at the top end of the league. Barcelona’s issues are the most well-documented, given their special dispensation to sign Braithwaite from Leganes outside of the transfer window.
Rightly or wrongly, it’s happened… but the big news is that Barca are likely to be without Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele for most, if not all, of the remainder of the campaign.
Real Madrid are missing Eden Hazard, also for the majority, if not the entirety, of the season, while Marco Asensio and Mariano Diaz are also sidelined.
Both teams have been hamstrung at various points by injuries at both ends of the pitch, a far-from-helpful fact when trying to win the LaLiga title.
Eden Hazard is likely to miss the rest of the season through injury, which hasn’t helped Real
Luis Suarez is also out for Barcelona, meaning both Clasico sides are without their top stars
Champions League struggles
Away from LaLiga, Real Madrid and Barcelona’s struggles have been well-documented by their situations in the Champions League knockout stages.
Both were in action this week in the last 16, and neither produced a victory in their first-leg match. First up, Barcelona played Napoli away from home.
The Italians have struggled this season and are well off the pace in Serie A, sitting sixth in the table behind the likes of Lazio and Atalanta. They managed to hold Barca to a 1-1 draw in Naples ahead of the second leg on March 18.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, were put to the sword by Manchester City at the Bernabeu and fell to a 2-1 defeat with Sergio Ramos sent off late on.
Manchester City put Real Madrid to the sword, even though they’re off the pace in England
Los Blancos went ahead through Isco, but conceded two quickfire goals to Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne to ensure their defeat.
Bearing in mind City have been well off the pace in the Premier League too, the result does not reflect well on the current state of Spanish football.
El Clasico is always brilliant, but the LaLiga title race this season has been far from spectacular and whoever wins the league will certainly have limped home, in part due to the failures of others and not necessarily because of their own success.
Sky TV and Virgin TV customers across the UK can watch El Clasico live on LaLigaTV this Sunday at 8pm GMT. LaLigaTV is the first dedicated channel to broadcast every live match and provide 24/7 access to ‘All of LaLiga. All in one place.’
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