Is there a title race in La Liga?

On Saturday afternoon it was 10. Within the space of four days, there had been two right footed free kicks from former team mates. One top corner. One bottom corner. One Iker Casillas had no chance of saving. One that Iker Casillas probably should have saved.  And by midnight on Wednesday it was down to 6. And maybe, just maybe, there is a title race in La Liga after all.

The title is still overwhelmingly in Madrid’s favour. A lead of 6 points and 10 games left. But there are some potentially awkward away fixtures to be overcome and Madrid have also been grinding out results lately. Gaining the three points but performing below the level they had set earlier in the season.

They secured arguably undeserved victories, away to Rayo and Betis as they won 11 consecutive La Liga games in a row, just 1 short of equalling the club record of 12 consecutive victories set in season 09/10 under the guidance of Pellegrini.  The 12th game had witnessed a poor performance, missed chances and less possession than the opposition but a 1-0 lead as full time neared.

And then Cazorla hit the first free kick.

Madrid’s failure to close the game out allowed Malaga to steal a point and make it four games undefeated for Pellegrini’s men whilst also ensuring Pellegrini’s record of 12 consecutive victories stayed intact.

And so to El Madrigal and a Villarreal team onto their third coach of the season, the dour defensive, 4 times relegated Miguel Angel Lotina. In a game most noticeable for its stop start nature and persistent fouling, Madrid again were slow and lethargic. A moment of brilliance from Ronaldo enough to give them a 1-0.

Villarreal were camped in their own half, seemingly confused by Lotina’s substitutions, unable to regain their shape or threaten Madrid. On a rare foray into Madrid territory, Altintop tackled Oriol and won the ball but was deemed to be reckless by the referee who awarded a free kick to the submarine.

And then Senna hit the second free kick.

The implosion of Madrid following this, the dismissals of Ramos and Ozil accompanied by Mourinho, ignored the fact that Madrid still had enough time to salvage the three points. Even with only 9 men on the park, Villarreal were nervous, unsure whether to attack and try to gain all three points or take the solitary point in their fight against relegation.

And the gap narrowed to 6 points.

The remaining fixtures appear kinder to Barcelona than to Madrid who have awkward away fixtures against Osasuna and Atleti either side of a home game vs a Valencia side who may be entering the final throes of the Unai Emery reign.

Navigate those games unscathed and the next test awaits at the Camp Nou before their final away trip of the season to San Mames.

Of course, all of this talk of a title race is entirely predicated upon Barcelona maintaining their current form and continuing to win all their games. It is also assumed that Real Madrid will roll up to the Camp Nou in April and roll over.

Could Madrid not arrive at the Camp Nou and leave with at least a point?

Focusing solely on La Liga also ignores the elephant sitting in the room – Europe.

Madrid should be able to rotate and eliminate Apoel with some ease. A luxury Barcelona will not enjoy against AC Milan. Similarly, Madrid could face both Valencia and Atleti with both opponents stretched by the demands of the Europa League and the race to secure a top 4 spot in La Liga.

Can Simeone and Emery rotate their squads to maintain a fight on two fronts?

And so to the weekend’s fixtures.

Barcelona travel to Mallorca looking for their 7th consecutive win with limited options at full back. Alves is suspended and both Abidal and Adriano are injured. A makeshift defence seems likely with Puyol likely to go in at full back and Muniesa or Montoya used on the opposite flank.

Madrid welcome Sociedad with Ramos and Ozil suspended and Mourinho missing from the dug out and in need of a result and  a performance.

Madrid have lost 4 points in 4 days. It’s a sign that they are losing their nerve and the title will be retained by Barcelona. Or is it more about Madrid experiencing their first real dip in form of the season yet they still have a lead of 6 points and the season is drawing to a conclusion?

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