With a wide-open title race and a contested battle for places in next season’s Champions League, we’ll have no shortage of can’t-miss games down the stretch in La Liga.
Every game involving any of the four legit top-four contenders – sorry, Valencia – over the last couple matchdays will be must-see TV. And the battles between two of the teams in that mix (fortunately we get a couple of them) will be even more compelling.
But we still do have a hell of a title race to keep an eye on, so let’s start this list – we’re going chronological, instead of ranking them 1-5 – with what we consider the toughest games on the schedule for first-place Barcelona and second-place Real Madrid.
No games from this weekend make it, but we’ve got the much-anticipated matchday 28 covered here.
Note: La Liga has not confirmed dates and times for games after matchday 31. Games whose dates have not been announced get a *.
Matchday 30: June 19, 4 p.m. Eastern, Barcelona at Sevilla
It’s hard to say whether Barcelona’s toughest remaining test is this trip to Sevilla or the July 1 clash with Atlético Madrid. We’ll go with this one, though, as it’s a much stiffer test than the Catalans’ first two games back (at Mallorca and home vs. Leganés).
Normally, we’d call the atmosphere at Sevilla’s home stadium a cause for concern for the visitors, but without fans, that goes out the window. Sevilla is too far behind to make much of a run at the title, but this is still an opportunity for them to make a statement.
These teams’ first match-up this season was one of Barcelona’s best performances of the season, as then-Manager Ernesto Valverde’s team won in a 4-0 rout. Don’t expect Quique Setién and Co. to jump out to a 3-0 lead at halftime in this one, though. Sevilla has lost just two of its 11 games this calendar year.
Matchday 30: June 21, 4 p.m. Eastern, Real Madrid at Real Sociedad
This one is fascinating for several reasons.
First of all, Real Madrid rallied enough late to make that Copa del Rey quarterfinal loss respectable, but was dominated for most of that match-up. The final score was 4-3, but Real Sociedad was up 3-0 after 58 minutes and led 4-1 through the 80th. That was not Real Madrid’s best XI by any means, but you can bet revenge will be on their minds. For Real Sociedad, a rematch vs. a full-strength RM will be a massive measuring-stick game.
And call me obvious, but it’s impossible to talk about these two teams without mentioning Martin Odegaard. The Norwegian 21-year-old is a RM loanee and arguably La Liga’s biggest star outside Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Whether he’s in his last few games with his current club will be one of the biggest storylines of the summer. Speaking of which, Marca last week claimed Odegaard’s Real Sociedad days might not be numbered after all.
Matchday 37: July 15*, Atlético Madrid at Getafe; Sevilla at Real Sociedad
Might as well write about these two match-ups together. A look at the table right now tells you all need to know about the significance of these two games.
At the moment, third-place Sevilla (47 points) is followed by Real Sociedad (46), Getafe (46) and Atleti (45). FiveThirtyEight gives Sevilla a 66% chance at a top-four finish, followed by Atleti (51%), Getafe (41%) and Real Sociedad (35%).
Oddsmakers, on the other hand, see Atleti (-305) and Sevilla (-167) as big favorites, while pegging both Getafe and Real Sociedad at +200.
Before going any further, let’s salute the schedule-makers for giving us three late games involving the teams fighting for third and fourth place. The beauty of these last couple weeks is that if the race is still tight, all four teams – but particularly Atleti and Real Sociedad – can help themselves in a huge way.
Matchday 38: July 19*, Real Sociedad at Atlético Madrid
What more could you want? Two teams squarely in the mix, as of now, for a place in the top four. Atleti failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League would be nothing short of catastrophic after what this team spent on João Félix last summer.
As for Real Sociedad, a win here (or whatever they’ll need to finish top-four) could be the start of one of the best “summers” in recent memory for this club. Before the season, who would have thought this team could have a real chance at a top-four finish and a Copa del Rey trophy?