La Liga title race: Barcelona look tired and lost as Madrid teams catch up in Spain and Europe
Barcelona’s 2-1 defeat at home to Valencia on Sunday has cranked up the pressure on the Nou Camp team, with just one point now separating the top three in La Liga.
Both Atletico and Real Madrid have taken advantage of Barca’s recent dip in form to set up what promises to be an enthralling end to the season in Spain.
Lionel Messi’s first goal in five games was his 500th for club and country, but it proved to be little more than a consolation.
Having looked well on course for a second consecutive treble a fortnight ago, Barca find themselves out of the Champions League and severely under the cosh from their Madrid rivals.
Atletico have won seven of their last eight games, while Real have secured seven wins in a row, but Barca boss Luis Enrique believes his team will still claim the title.
“Luck didn’t shine on the team – I congratulate my players for how they faced the adversity during the game,” said Enrique.
“We still depend on ourselves. Our margin for error has run out and we are aware of the challenge. Now we have a marvelous challenge, five games in which if we win them all we are champions.”
Enrique’s team appear to have a favorable run-in, with Wednesday’s trip to Deportivo La Coruna representing their most difficult game on paper.
Deportivo currently lie 13th in the table, with Barca’s remaining opponents Sporting Gijon, Real Betis, Espanyol and Granada all currently below them in the standings.
Atletico travel to fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, while Real host fourth-placed Villareal.
Three of Atletico’s last four games are at home, with a match against relegation-threatened Levante on the penultimate weekend of the season their only away trip.
Real’s final four games include visits to Rayo Vallecano, Real Sociedad and Deportivo, with Valencia at home also representing a potential banana skin.
The Madrid teams have the added distraction of Champions League semi-finals to contend with, while Barca also have the advantage of a better head-to-head record against both their title rivals.
If the teams are level on points at the end of the season, La Liga is decided by a straight aggregate scoreline between the two sides and Barca would win via that scenario.
While Barca could easily win their final five games, their recent collapse is worrying for their title hopes and Enrique admitted after the Valencia defeat that his team need to improve quickly.
“It is evident that we are lacking luck, it won’t surprise anyone that has watched the game,” added Enrique.
“Feeling sorry for ourselves won’t get us anywhere. The players have given a lesson in the second half of how to face a situation like this.
“Until the 93rd minute we were trying to equalise and that is something to highlight. It would be normal to be frustrated with the referee, the opposition, the bad luck.
“We can improve, we can be more precise in the final third, we can improve and we have to, that is the objective.”