La Liga Matchday 24 Preview: Is Atleti Losing Its Grip On First Place?

Posted By Tyler Everett on February 19, 2021

Here are the Matchday 24 match-ups for La Liga’s top four teams:

  • Atlético Madrid (-200) vs. Levante (+600) Saturday, 10:15 a.m. Eastern
  • Valladolid (+600) vs. Real Madrid (-205) Saturday, 3 p.m.
  • Barcelona (-625) vs. Cádiz (+1,600) Sunday, 8 a.m.
  • Osasuna (+350) vs. Sevilla (-109) Monday, 3 p.m.

At the risk of implying there’s anything more interesting in European soccer right now than how Cádiz might fare at Camp Nou this weekend, let’s start with how the week went in Europe for Spain’s top teams.

A Rough Week In The Champions League

Overall, woof. Barcelona was shredded by PSG (who were missing Neymar and Angel di Maria) and Sevilla nearly got run off the pitch during the first half against Borussia Dortmund. Sevilla scored late to make it 3-2, which means they at least theoretically have a shot to advance. But Barcelona’s all-but-assured elimination is not what La Blaugrana hoped they would get from what might be Lionel Messi’s last season with the club.

It didn’t get better for La Liga right away on Thursday. In the Europa League, Real Sociedad was shredded 4-0 by Manchester United on Thursday in a highlight-reel performance by OGS’ men.

For a while there, this collision of Real Sociedad players to set up a goal by Bruno Fernandes pretty much summed up how La Liga’s finest were performing:


But Granada (in a 2-0 home win over Napoli) and Villarreal (in a 2-0 victory at RB Salzburg) saved some face for their league, or something like that.

Either way, the question now is whether Atleti and Real Madrid do better next week against Chelsea and Atalanta, respectively. All Spanish soccer fans can say to that, for now, is “let’s hope so!”

As for the games this weekend, they’re admittedly not interesting on the surface. Considering everything Spain’s top clubs have going on at the moment, though, they could be closer than oddsmakers expect.

More Bad News For Real Madrid

UPDATE: The bad news I was referring to early Friday morning was Carvajal’s latest setback, but it’s since emerged that Karim Benzema’s status for Atalanta next week is uncertain. Two things: A) most importantly, it’s horrible news for a team that’s had a ton of it lately, and B) I can’t overstate what a good idea betting on Atalanta (currently priced at +160) is next week.

Obviously, with Real Madrid traveling to Valladolid this weekend and visiting Atalanta on Wednesday before hosting Real Sociedad on March 1 and traveling across town to face Atleti on March 7, there’s a risk of Los Blancos getting caught looking ahead vs. Valladolid. It doesn’t help that right back Dani Carvajal returned from injury last weekend against Valencia, only to be forced out after less than 30 minutes with another injury.

Shorthanded and entering a tough stretch, Zinedine Zidane’s team looks ripe for an upset after three straight gritty wins over Huesca, Getafe and Valencia.

Is Atlético Madrid Losing Its Grip On The Title Race?

Atleti’s then-10-point lead atop the table was starting to feel insurmountable a few short weeks ago. But this team has settled for draws in two of its last three, leaving the door open for a title race if RM and/or Barcelona can get hot in La Liga. Atleti currently sits in first with 55 points through 22 games, followed by Real Madrid (49 points through 23 games) and Barcelona (46 through 22).

Two reasons fans of Real Madrid and Barcelona should feel hopeful if they can stay hot in La Liga*:

  • It might still be a temporary thing due to COVID, fatigue, Kieran Trippier’s suspension, etc., but Atlético has now conceded a goal in each of its last six (!) in La Liga. The offense has vastly improved from recent seasons, but the defense temporarily looking mortal provides hope.
  • They’re entering a brutal slate after this weekend’s match-up with a Levante team they drew earlier this week. After dropping points to Celta Vigo and Levante in the last two weeks, they get Chelsea this week. They then visit Villarreal on February 28 before hosting RM in a huge game on March 7. Real Madrid has a legit chance to be on their rivals’ heels if they win that one.

*Yes, I realize that this season, saying that all either team has to do is keep winning is asking a lot.

About Barcelona

If you haven’t heard, the sky is once again falling for the Catalans. It’s hard to imagine a worse outcome in Leg 1 at home than a 4-1 loss. Barcelona’s next two (home vs. Cádiz and home vs. Elche on Wednesday) are more than manageable. Then they have a tough La Liga match vs. Sevilla, followed by Leg 2 of the Copa del Rey semifinal — also vs. Sevilla — four days later on March 3.

The good news for Barcelona? Kylian Mbappe doesn’t play in La Liga, at least not for now …

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