1st Barcelona 84 points
Despite a tricky start to the season, that saw Barcelona hire their third new coach in as many seasons, the Catalan giants head into the final stretch of La Liga with the title firmly in their grasp. The attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar (Or MSN as they are known) have scored a combined tally of 102 goals so far this season, the highest ever by a Barcelona front three. Concerns about defensive frailties have lessened since last year, while rumours of a dressing room split has disappeared. Rafinha & Rakitic have added guile to the Barcelona midfield this season, complementing the silky skills of either Iniesta or Xavi. There certainly seems a lot more urgency to their play.
While Barcelona lost to Real Sociedad at the Anoeta earlier in the season, the Camp Nou remains their fortress, and three points will be likely. Similarly, relegation strugglers Cordoba and Deportivo La Coruna would be seen as easy targets. They will however be playing the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich in the same week as their away trip to Atletico, a match that will create a lot of interest on both sides of the capital.
Real Sociedad home
Atletico Madrid away
Deportivo La Coruna home
2nd Real Madrid 79 Points
Despite winning their tenth Champions League title last season, and going through to the semi-finals of this seasons edition, Madrid still face the ever growing reality that they will finish without the La Liga title for the third straight season. Carlo Ancelotti’s men have been somewhat laboured this season, with injuries to key players and a host of new additions that are taking time to settle, all contributing to a stop-start season, the high profile James Rodriguez being indicative of this. There remain valid concerns for the long term future of club captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, with Manchester United star David de Gea seen as an ideal replacement. Cristiano Ronaldo however remains in fantastic form, scoring 50 goals in all competitions for the 5th consecutive season.
Wins against Almeria, Espanyol and Getafe would be expected, but two tricky fixtures against Sevilla and Valencia remain. Both clubs are desperately chasing the remaining Champions League spot after several seasons away, and with a Champions League semi-final first leg encounter against the structured Juventus in between those fixtures, a slip up seems rather likely.
3rd Atletico Madrid 72 points
They have followed up the impossible with consistency, something that has been sorely lacking at Atletico over the past decade. Knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and almost secured of a place in next season’s edition, Atletico have followed up their first league title in 18 seasons with an admirable season. Key players Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois (end of a three year loan) have all left for Chelsea, while Mario Madzukic and Polish keeper Jan Oblak have taken some time to settle in. French winger Antoine Griezman, signed from Real Sociedad has however been electrifying, and easily the best player outside the top two. Academy graduate Koke also continues to grow in stature at the Vicente Calderon, and has become one of the most sought after young players in Europe.
Victories against strugglers Levante and Granada will be almost assured for Diego Simeone’s structured side, while Villarreal and Athletic club have only a spot in the Europa League to play for, and points should be secured. Their match against Barcelona could well decide the title, and will be seen as a final of sorts for Atletico. No silverware is available for them, but with less departures expected next season, a late season scalp could be worth even more in the long run.
Athletic Club home
4th Valencia 68 points
After two disastrous seasons which saw four coaches come and go, the club dropping out of the top four, coupled with financial instability and the departure of several high profile players, Valencia fans would have felt an immense relief at the news of the purchase of the club by Singaporean Billionaire Peter Lim. He brought with him the inexperienced but so far impressive Portuguese manager Nuno Santo as well as the former Madrid forward Rodrigo Moreno and the highly rated Portuguese midfielder Andre Gomes. Alvaro Negredo joined on loan, while the new centre back pairing of Nicolas Otamendi and Shkodran Mustafi (A World Cup winner with Germany) has made Valencia secure at the back, after several porous defensive seasons. Valencia has finally found some sort of rhythm.
With Sevilla hot on their heels, Valencia cannot afford to slip ups in their attempt to reach the Champions League after two seasons away. Any points secured from the match against Real Madrid would be seen as a bonus, but with more pressure on Madrid, an upset could be likely. Any talk of this being a successful season then, rest surely on securing a spot in the Champions League.
Rayo Vallecano away
Real Madrid away
Celta de Vigo home
5th Sevilla 66 points
Unai Emery has brought stability to the Andalusian club, with a strong emphasis on attacking play, just as he did with his former club Valencia. Up front Carlos Bacca has followed up his debut season with another impressive haul, whilst Ever Banega has enjoyed his best spell since he was coached at Valencia by Emery. How ironic it would be then if the midfield maestro is the one that would deny Valencia the elusive 4th spot, considering they offloaded him cheaply to Sevilla in the summer.
Their fixtures closely mirror that of Valencia’s, and so must their results. A home match against Real Madrid could define their season, and might see them leapfrog Valencia should the Che fail in their attempt a week later. Sevilla are still in the Europa League, with semi-final fixtures against Italian side Fiorentina still to be played. They were winners in that competition last season, and for the first time ever, this year’s winner will enter the playoffs for a Champions League spot.
Real Madrid home
Celta de Vigo away