Luis Aragones said it before, and he was a wise man, but everything that has happened until now counts for little. Atletico Madrid‘s lead of four and six points over Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively will prove insufficient if, in the next 50 days, they don’t overcome their recent problems.
Atletico have been playing badly, hit by nerves. You could see that they were going out with the fear of losing LaLiga Santander on their minds for the last month, while Ronald Koeman and Barcelona have raced back to recover themselves in the title race.
In their last 10 LaLiga Santander games, Los Rojiblancos have claimed 21 points to Los Blancos‘ 23 and the Catalans’ 28. Barcelona have picked up seven more points. There are now 10 games left.
That’s why the international break came at a better time for Atleti than anyone. Diego Simeone has been able to reset his team, and the title will be won by whichever team best imposes themselves over the next 10 matchdays.
Atletico started the season well, picking up 50 points from the first 57 on offer, while they were winter champions three games before the first round of fixtures ended. Between Matchday 6 and 21, they won seven straight games before falling at Valdebebas, and then they won another nine on the bounce until January 31. Their visit to Sevilla on Sunday will be a gauge of how they have returned from the international break.
When the first round of fixtures ended, Atleti were 10 points clear of both of the Clasico pair with a game fewer played. A lot of people ruled out Barcelona then, but they’ve grown since their loss to Cadiz on December 5. Lionel Messi has switched on and he’s scoring goals and making a difference again.
Jordi Alba is playing well, while Pedri and Ousmane Dembele haven’t stopped growing under Koeman. They beat Real Sociedad 6-1 before the break away from home, and they’ll visit Valdebebas in a week before playing the 2021 Copa del Rey final against Athletic Club. If they can maintain their pre-break level, they’ll win the LaLiga Santander title.
Real Madrid have a more complicated path, but they’ve been here before. Just last season they won the title thanks to a 10-game winning run to end the campaign after lockdown. Now, they’re six points off top and have the same challenge in front of them – to win 10 straight games. If their veteran midfield hangs tight, they might just be the most dangerous of the three contenders.