Three different teams could have, with the right result, finished the weekend at the top of La Liga. A Barcelona win would have made Ronald Koeman’s side frontrunners while Atletico Madrid also had the chance to stretch their advantage and move within touching distance of the title. When these two drew at the Camp Nou on Saturday, it presented Real Madrid with the opportunity to go top. They couldn’t capitalise either.
We really shouldn’t have expected any different. While this season’s La Liga title race has been the most compelling in a generation, it hasn’t exactly been a sprint to the finish. Whoever utlimately gets their hands on the trophy will do so with the lowest points tally of any Spanish champion since the 2007/08 sea
There has been much discussion about the quality of Spanish football in general of late. A series of underwhelming performances by La Liga’s representatives in this season’s Champions League prompted many to declare that the division no longer sits at the top of the European game, as has been the case for the last decade or so.
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It’s certainly true that both Barcelona and Real Madrid find themselves in the midst of a generational transition. The two rivals set a new precedent in the sport for a number of years, but their legends have become veterans. Both Ronald Koeman and Zinedine Zidane have fast-tracked a number of youngsters into their senior squads this season simply because they have had to.
Atletico Madrid aren’t at the same generational juncture, but they too are caught somewhere between what they used to be in the past and what they want to be in the future. Diego Simeone has more than once spoken about his desire to modernise Atleti’s approach, but this has resulted in his team frequently getting stuck in ideological no-man’s land.
The weakness of Spain’s ‘Big Three’ has given us a title race that, seemingly, nobody wants to win. Atleti held a 10-point lead on January 31, but have won just seven of their last 16 matches as their momentum has vanished. Barcelona looked to be on a roll, winning 15 out of 17 games, but lost at home to Granada with first place there for the taking. The goalless draw against Atletico Madrid only added to the sense that Koeman’s side have an inferiority complex in the biggest games.
Real Madrid have the opposite problem, going unbeaten against Atleti and Barca this season, but dropping points to Alaves, Getafe Cadiz and Levante. Zidane’s side have been the most consistently inconsistent of the three title challengers. That might be enough to make them Spanish champions again, but it doesn’t make them a good team.
When the 2020/21 La Liga season finally ends, Sevilla might feel the most regret of anyone. The opportunity was there for an outsider to upset the established order at the top of the table, and in a sense Julen Lopetegui’s side have done this. They are just six points off the top with three games left to play. A third or even second place finish is still possible.
Jules Koundé (Sevilla) y Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Image credit: Getty Images
But Sevilla have come up short in their efforts to win a first Spanish top flight title since 1946. They might never get another chance like this again, with Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid all vulnerable. With more conviction, like in stoppage time at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano on Sunday, the Anadalusians could have been champions.
More twists and turns will surely unfold over the final three games of the season, because why would anything change now? This title race will live long in the memory, but the teams involved won’t be remembered for how strong they were. In fact, their weakness has been the determining factor.
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