• John Gilding


Remember when Atletico were 13 points clear at the top of La Liga, with two games in hand? Yeah, not anymore. Atletico are still in the driving seat, but Barca and Real have their hands on the wheel too.

With eight games to go, La Liga looks hotter thanver. Here’s what the run-in looks like for the three contenders.

1st - Atletico Madrid

Pld: 30 Pts: 67 GD: 32


April 18 – Eibar (H)

April 22 – Huesca (H)

April 25 – Athletic Club (A)

May 1 – Elche (A)

May 8 – Barcelona (A)

May 13 – Real Sociedad (H)

May 16 – Osasuna (A)

May 23 – Real Valladolid (H)

Key Match - Barcelona

A proper title-decider this one. Last week’s El Classico was part one, this is the second act. Barcelona are in much better form than Atletico, and at the minute they are just two points behind them. It will be a tough test, and if they pull off a win, it should give them the momentum to go on and win the title.

They’d deserve it too, they’ve been unstoppable for most of the season, but just come off the boil recently. Against Barcelona, at Camp Nou, is the final boss fight to see if they have really earnt the title.

Key Player - Jan Oblak

Atletico are having a small injury crisis over the next two weeks. Strikers Suarez, Dembelé and Felix have all picked up injuries and will be out for a few weeks. Angel Correa and others will have to play out of position to cover, which means that they can’t rely on goals to get them out of trouble.

They don’t normally, but now they don’t have the option either. This means that Oblak becomes more important than ever. The Slovenian will have a lot of work to do for the next couple of months, but as arguably the best pure shot-stopper in the world, he is their get-out-of-jail-free card for the run-in, protecting clean sheets, and hoping the forwards can snatch a goal to bring home the three points.

2nd – Real Madrid

Pld: 30 Pts: 66 GD: 29


April 18 – Getafe (A)

April 21 – Cádiz (A)

April 24 – Real Betis (H)

May 1 – Osasuna (H)

May 9 – Sevilla (H)

May 13 – Granada (A)

May 16 – Athletic Club (A)

May 23 – Villarreal (H)

Key Match – Sevilla

Sevilla are sitting in fourth place in the league, comfortably in the Champions League positions, and will give Madrid a tough time on the same weekend as Atletico and Barcelona come together. If they win, they are guaranteed to gain points on at least one of their rivals.

Madrid won the previous league game, and would be favourites to do it again. They might have no choice but to win it too, with a couple of injuries hampering their run-in. Varane and Ramos should only miss a couple of games, and they managed pretty well without them in the Classico, but losing your first-choice centre-back pairing is never a good thing. Just ask Liverpool.

Key Player - Karim Benzema

Benzema has been Madrid’s rock for years since Ronaldo left, and even before that. He puts out consistently world class performances, which Madrid will need to drag them over the line at the end of the season.

Especially if they suffer more injuries in defence, Benzema will be called upon to outscore their opponents in order to pick up the points they will need to push Atletico out of the driving seat. Which is excellent news for the neutral La Liga fan.

3rd - Barcelona

Pld: 30 Pts: 65 GD: 43


April 22 – Getafe (H)

April 25 – Villarreal (A)

April 28 – Granada (H)

May 2 – Valencia (A)

May 9 – Atletico Madrid (H)

May 11 – Levante (A)

May 16 – Celta Vigo (H)

May 23 – Eibar (A)

Key Match - Villarreal

Barcelona need to win all of their remaining games. They might only be two points off the lead, but there are two teams ahead of them who have to slip up for Barcelona to make any gains. It’s a simple enough task to say, but pulling it off is a lot more difficult.

Because of this, every game from here on out is a key game for Barca. Villarreal will be their toughest opponent aside from Atletico. A win away there will set them up nicely for the rest of their remaining fixtures, but it won’t be easy. Unai Emery’s side are in good form, and look a hell of a lot better than they were in September, when they lost 4-0 in the reverse game. But if Barcelona can channel some of that performance, they will be halfway there.

Key Player - Lionel Messi

Through thick and thin, through good form and shocking, Messi always turns up for his side. Well, not always, but more often than not, and definitely more often than anyone else. He will lead his team from the front, trying to secure one more La Liga before a potential exit.

If you were a manager needing eight wins from eight, is there any other player you would choose? Apart from Mr Big Game Ronaldo, almost certainly not. Barcelona may have some brilliant young talents, but experience is the watchword now.