After weeks and weeks without a game between a top Spanish club and a legit contender, Matchday 25 might be the best of the season.
- Sevilla (+215) vs. Barcelona (+120) Saturday, 10:15 a.m. Eastern
- Villarreal (+230) vs. Atlético Madrid (+145) Sunday, 3 p.m.
- Real Madrid (-117) vs. Real Sociedad (+300) Monday, 3 p.m.
We have a couple things to talk about before we get into Barcelona’s must-win trip to Sevilla, though.
A better (but still not good!) week in Europe
Kylian Mbappé left Barcelona alone this week, which was good news for Spanish soccer. And La Liga clubs went 3-1-1 in Champions League and Europa League matches. Progress!
It didn’t start off well, though, as Atleti reverted to its worst habits in pursuit of a 0-0 draw vs. Chelsea on Tuesday. In shocking, heartbreaking news for fans of the Atleti we’ve seen for most of this season, that “let’s rock a six-man back line when Chelsea has the ball” thing didn’t work out. After giving up a late goal to Olivier Giroud, Atleti enters Leg 2 down 1-0. Los Rojiblancos are now +275 to advance.
Real Madrid (with absolutely no trace of good fortune or harsh red cards to force their opponent to play most of the game with 10 men) won at Atalanta in the UCL Round of 16. And Villarreal and Granada beat RB Salzburg and Napoli, respectively, to advance to the UEL Round of 16. Real Sociedad didn’t lose either in Leg 2 against Manchester United, but their 0-0 draw meant United comfortably advanced (4-0 aggregate).
Atleti is definitely not pulling away with La Liga
When Diego Simeone’s team cruised through the first half of the season to reach 50 points through 19 matchdays, it looked well on its way to the title (and possibly a 100-point campaign). The question, to most of us, wasn’t whether they’d win La Liga for the first time since ’14, but whether they’d do so comfortably.
But all of a sudden, clean sheets are hard to come by, the offense has scored just one goal in the last three matches in all competitions and the lead atop La Liga has shrunk from 10 points on January 31 to just 3. The good news is Atleti (55 points) still has a game in hand on Real Madrid (52 points) and Barcelona (50 points).
Atletico Madrid title odds: The race is on
To answer last week’s question, we do indeed have a title race, according to oddsmakers. After being priced around -300 to win La Liga as recently as January 31, Atleti is now -155 — and has a 40% chance to win the league, according to FiveThirtyEight. Second-place RM (+300) and third-place Barcelona (+400) remain long shots, but that door is open. Sevilla, in fourth with 48 points, has won five in a row, but is +1,800.
March should be much kinder to Atlético than February, as a COVID outbreak that sidelined several key players now appears to be in the rear-view. However, the level of competition is about to improve, at least in La Liga, which is why Atleti’s recent match-ups with beatable squads were so important. After taking just 5 of 12 possible points from four games against Celta Vigo, Granada, Levante (and Levante again), Atleti is at sixth-place Villarreal this weekend before meeting Real Madrid next Sunday.
Villarreal intriguing at +230
Speaking of the Villarreal match-up, are we sure the home side should be +230? Considering Atleti’s current form, that’s interesting, as is the draw (+190). For most of the year, we’ve seen Atleti open things up, but after packing it in vs. Chelsea, will we see another approach where the two most likely outcomes are an ugly 1-0 win or worse, a goalless draw?
After the last few weeks, would it really shock anyone (despite Real Madrid fielding a M*A*S*H unit) if the Madrid rivals were tied atop La Liga after next weekend?
No respect for Sevilla
Barcelona still dazzles against teams like Elche, which they blew out with three gorgeous second-half goals on Wednesday. However, we’ve seen over and over again that it’s a different story against opponents with equal or superior athletes. In fact, Barcelona was completely stifled by none other than Sevilla in the Copa del Rey as recently as February 10.
I’ll believe Barcelona can handle a quality opponent when I see it, no matter how impressive Lionel Messi and Co. (mostly Messi) were against Elche this week. Ronald Araujo’s potential return should improve the Barcelona defense* – assuming he’s back alongside a healthy (or healthier) Gerard Pique – but the Catalans’ recent track record against good teams makes Sevilla at +215 a great bet. If you’re not quite as bullish on Sevilla, you should at least consider them at +135 “draw no bet.”
More to come on both this game, and the Supercopa semifinal second leg on March 3, next week.
*It says it all about Barcelona right now that the “glass half-full” take is that 21-year-old Araujo is what this team’s defense has been missing.