Real Madrid or Barcelona – who has the tougher run-in?
We take a look at which side has the title-race advantage over the final eleven fixtures
As is traditional in La Liga, this season’s title race is something of a two-horse race. Barcelona hold a narrow two-point advantage over Real Madrid, with a nine-point gap over Sevilla in third.
Our traders have Barcelona as 4/7 favourites to win the title, with Real Madrid at 5/4. With La Liga set to resume this week, we take a look at key factors in both team’s remaining fixtures – who has the toughest games, which sides were in form and how playing behind closed doors could affect the title race.
Eibar – 16th (H), Valencia – 7th (H) Real Sociedad – 4th (A) Mallorca – 18th (H), Espanyol – 20th (A), Getafe – 5th (H), Athletic Club – 10th (A), Alaves – 14th (H), Granada – 9th (A), Villareal – 8th (H), Leganes – 19th(A)
Real Madrid’s form going into the league’s hiatus had threatened to derail their season. In their four games prior, they had lost twice–having previously only lost once all season–as well as drawing with Celta Vigo.
However, their one win among these games was a 2-0 victory over Barcelona that prevented their dip in form from being a complete disaster. It could also be argued that the break in action is an opportunity for Real to reset, throw form out of the window and regroup for the final eleven fixtures.
Real Madrid will have the majority of their first-team squad at their disposal, with the only injury absences set to be young striker Luka Jovic and versatile defender Nacho. Eden Hazard has had a tough first season in Spain so far. Now back to fitness, he could show how good he is.
There are only a couple of fixtures in the list above that look potentially troubling, with an away tie to fourth-placed Real Sociedad potentially the most difficult. Sociedad went into the break as one of the league’s form teams, taking 12 points from their final five fixtures. If they can maintain that, they’ll certainly pose a threat.
One of Sociedad’s key performers this season is Norwegian youngster Martin Ødegaard – who happens to be on-loan from Los Blancos themselves. However, he’ll still be eligible to play and may want to prove a point, with reports that he’d rather not return to his parent team.
While 18th placed Mallorca don’t look like much of a threat on paper, it’s still worth noting that they managed to beat Real all the way back in October.
Real have a slight home advantage in their final games, with six of the 11 matches set to be played at the Bernabéu, however there has been a suggestion from the Bundesliga that home advantage may be somewhat nullified in playing behind closed doors.
Leganes – 19th (H), Sevilla – 3rd (A), Athletic Club – 10th (H), Celta Vigo – 17th (A), Atletico Madrid – 6th (H), Villareal – 8th (A), Espanyol – 20th (H), Valladolid – 15th(A), Osasuna – 11th (H), Alaves – 14th (A)
Before the break, Barcelona were on a relatively impressive run, that allowed them to capitalise on Real Madrid’s slip and take the top spot in the process. They had won five of their last six league games, but as noted above, that single loss was against their title rivals, setting us up for a compelling conclusion to the season.
While Ousmane Dembele remains sidelined, there is good news for Barcelona, with Luis Suarez returning from a shoulder injury, while Lionel Messi looks set to overcome an injury scare.
However, their squad is significantly smaller than Real’s and with a truncated fixture schedule, and several players suspended or close to being suspended – they could find the run-in taxing in that respect.
Barcelona face three of the current bottom four teams in their final fixtures and just four teams from the top ten. However, playing away to Sevilla in just their second game back could prove difficult.
The Andalusian side were unbeaten in six before the pause and are in the midst of a five-way tussle for the final two Champions League spots.
While they have failed to live up to their usual standards this season, Atletico Madrid can’t be written off as an easy game either. They’ll certainly be looking to make up ground on their rivals and they remain an incredibly frustrating side to play against – as Liverpool fans can attest.
There really isn’t much separating the two sides in the run-in. Both teams have a couple of tough fixtures against teams chasing the Champions League and each advantage they might have seems to be countered by the other.
For instance, Barcelona face just four teams from the top 10, while Real face six, but of those games Barcelona probably have the toughest fixture in their away tie at Sevilla and it’s unlikely Atletico will be doing them any favours.
While Barcelona have a narrow two-point lead in the race, there is an element of vulnerability to their smaller squad (as illustrated in February, when Dembele’s injury forced them into the emergency signing of Martin Braithwaite).
The league is Barcelona’s to lose, but with the fixtures coming thick and fast, that two-point lead could quickly evaporate. On the other hand, Real need to hit the ground running and immediately banish their patchy pre-break form.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication