A few weeks ago I sent my fellow SSN host the following message
“Shame the el classico won’t mean much in terms of the title race, it’s already over”………….I was wrong.
To be fair, I was in good company. Real Madrid, whose coach Zinedine Zidane said in February that the title race was over, thrashed Getafe 5-1 away on Saturday and stand just one point behind the leading pair. If this is Ronaldo having a bad season, then he has set some serious standards. And what about Athletico? A team I have always maintained should not even be in contention for the league but for their manager Simeone. As discussed on the pod, he’s the type of manager you are willing to go that extra mile for, and buy in to his way of playing. Goals from Koke, Fernando Torres and Angel Correa guided the second-placed Rojiblancos to a third straight league victory that kept the pressure on Luis Enrique’s pacesetters, who lost 2-1 to Valencia. For me, they also have the most underrated player in the league- Koke. The Spanish international has provided four assists and scored two goals in his last five appearances
Barcelona’s stuttering title bid suffered another setback when they lost 2-1 at home to Valencia on Sunday, while Atlético Madrid moved level on points with the La Liga leaders after a comfortable win over Granada. Shell-shocked Barça have 76 points along with Atlético, who knocked the holders out of the Champions League in midweek, and remain top only due to a superior head-to-head record.An own goal by Barça midfielder Ivan Rakitic put Valencia ahead after 27 minutes at the Camp Nou and Santi Mina added a second just before half-time to stun the Barça supporters. Lionel Messi scored his 500th career goal to reduce the deficit after 64 minutes but the struggling hosts, who have squandered a nine-point lead, could not find an equaliser
It feels unfair to single out individuals but the reason that Neymar stands out is because, for the first few months of the season, he was probably the best player in Europe. Throughout the Autumn and particularly while Messi was out injured, the Brazilian was unstoppable .In number form, Neymar scored 18 goals in the September, October and November, while February, March and April have seen him net just six times
Fatigue has certainly had a negative effect on Barcelona’s superstar front three. Luis Suarez has started 30 La Liga games and not missed a minute. He’s started nine Champions League games and not missed a minute. When you’re talking about a team that has hammered sides this season it makes no sense, but that’s on Luis Enrique, the point that concerns the player is that it’s simply not possible to keep playing at an elite level when you are so far off peak condition.Suarez and Neymar both appear among the top 15 of outfield players in La Liga for minutes played, while Messi would almost certainly be above both had he not spent eight weeks out with a knee injury. Every team can use the “tired” excuse, but this one is exacerbated by a lack of squad depth. Yes, Barca….a lack of squad depth. When Messi was out with his injury in the Autumn, the next in line were Munir El-Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez. The pair played 16 games between them in La Liga and Europe but mustered just three goals – all of them Munir’s. Most players aren’t going to be able to step up to the standard of the front 3, though the replacements this season have been particularly poor.
Barca went in for Denis Suarez (remember the name), who is impressing at Villarreal but had a €3million buyback clause in his contract for the summer. Despite their best efforts, however, Barca couldn’t convince Villarreal to part with the youngster and although he will almost certainly sign this summer, his arrival could have added impetus to the side in January. What about other squad players? Turan and Vidal? Turan’s ability playing in Barca’s midfield three has been exposed in recent matches and Aleix Vidal is now third-choice right-back.
For the record, I still think Barca will win the league based on their run-in. But, as always in football, it is no foregone conclusion.