The Race For La Liga – No Questions Answered In Stalemate

In a crucial game at the Nou Camp, Barcelona entertained Atletico Madrid with just two points separating the teams at the top of La Liga. Oscar Mingueza started instead of Ronald Araujo at the back for Ronald Koeman’s men, the only change from their 3-2 win at Valencia last Sunday. Diego Simeone benched Jose Gimenez as Felipe started in central defence, and he also started Koke as Geoffrey Kondogbia dropped to the bench after starting in last Saturday’s 1-0 win at Elche.

Atleti look the livelier early on. Thomas Lemar had their first shot on 3 minutes, but it was grasped easily. 10 minutes in, and Luis Suarez’ free-kick produced a routine save for his former teammate Marc-Andre terStegen. Three minutes later Lemar sadly pulled up, and was forced off as Saul Niguez replaced him. Just before the 20th minute; Clement Lenglet had to make a good challenge on Angel Correa from Mario Hermoso’scutback to deny what looked like a certain goal.

Barca did not have their first meaningful effort until the 29th minute when Jan Oblak denied Antoine Griezmann.60 seconds later there was an unfortunate incident as Sergio Busquets clashed heads with Stefan Savic. The former went off with what could be a possible concussion and Moriba Ilaix came on. In the

34th minute; Suarez tried to beat ter Stegen at the near post when it looked like he would cross, but the keeper was alert. The German international was then again called into action at his near post when he saved from Yannick Carrasco. 

Both teams almost broke the deadlock before half-time. Firstly Lionel Messi went on a great run as he took on four men and Oblak saved his shot. Shortly after at the other end, Gerard Pique made an important block to deny Carrasco. Felipe also had an effort, driving over as Atletico ended the half well.

Barca were the better team to start the second half, but were just lacking that killer final ball to really trouble their opponents. Pique headed over from a Messi cross just after the hour-mark. In the 66th minute Oblak turned away Messi’s free-kick. The game then fizzled out as a contest before Barcelona almost nicked it at the death. Moussa Dembele headed over in the 85th minute and Messi’s 90th minute free-kick went inches wide as it ended goalless.

So considering what was at a stake, the game was very anti-climatic. Atleti after a bright start seemed to end up just making sure they did not lose. Simeone’s men have Real Sociedad, Osasuna and Valladolid to end the season. Despite Sociedad being tough opposition they will feel they can secure the title, but they will need a big favour from Sevilla who play Real Madrid on Sunday. A win would ironically take Sevilla only a point behind Los Blancos, and then they would have their own title aspirations, as they would only be 4 points away from Atleti with 9 to play for. If the two teams from the capitalwere to finish level on points then Zinedine’s Zidane’smen would win the title as they have the better head-to-head record. 

In regards to Barca they still trail Atletico by two points, but they have very winnable fixtures remaining against Levante, Celta Vigo and Eibar if their rivals slip up. Real it must be said have the toughest schedule for the run-in. After the aforementioned Sevilla game, they then play Granada, Athletic Bilbao and Europa League finalists Villarreal. So it is all to play for in what will be a thrilling end to the La Liga season.

Daniel Dwamena

FEATURE PHOTOGRAPH: “File:Loko-AM2018 tren (18).jpg” by Антон Зайцевis licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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