With just one Spanish club left in the Champions League Quarterfinals, now seems like a good time to ask: Can Atlético Madrid win La Liga?
Mathematically, Diego Simeone‘s side absolutely could pull it off. On paper, a seven-point deficit with 11 games to play is far from insurmountable. But there’s a reason FiveThirtyEight currently gives Los Rojiblancos just a 3% chance to take home the La Liga crown. Anyone who’s seen Barcelona’s recent form probably agrees with FiveThirtyEight’s assessment.
Nobody’s calling this race a toss-up, but can we at least expect it to remain compelling until the season wraps up on May 19? Unfortunately, no. Anyone hoping for drama as the domestic season wraps up is going to be disappointed.
It’s not that Atlético is likely to falter in league play, although it will be interesting to see how this team responds following Tuesday’s disastrous capitulation against longtime nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. The good news is they should be ready for Barcelona on April 6th considering their opponents before then are 12th-place Athletic Bilbao, fifth-place Alavés and 14th-place Girona.
Barcelona Just Too Good
It’s much more a matter of Barcelona’s current form, as well as the quality of their remaining La Liga opponents, that make a cruise to the finish line for the Catalans the most likely outcome. Even if Atleti can beat Barça, it’s hard to imagine the Madrid club making up the other four points that would be separating these teams without any other losses.
Barcelona is 19-6-2 in La Liga and they made a statement in Wednesday’s 5-1 win over Lyon in the Champions League. While this team has looked beatable in recent weeks, the bad news for Atleti is that the “swoon” appears to be a thing of the past.
For the first three weeks of February, Barcelona was out of sorts offensively, scoring just four goals in six games from Feb. 2-19. None of their opponents made them pay, though, and that’s why it’s going to take somewhat of a collapse by Ernesto Valverde’s men for Atlético to move into first. What happened in Turin on Tuesday will obviously be the low point of the year for Los Rojiblancos, but the losses to Real Betis on Feb. 3 and Real Madrid on Feb. 9 were catastrophic results that quietly ruined their chances in La Liga.
Barça recorded just one win but scratched out five draws during that stretch. Now that the thigh injury that hobbled Lionel Messi (to varying degrees) from when he suffered it Feb. 2 against Valencia until his hat trick on Feb. 23 against Sevilla is in the rear-view mirror, Barcelona is humming again. Including the blowout of Lyon, the Catalans have scored an impressive 16 goals in their last five games.
Luis Suárez, who has recently looked anything but washed up, and Messi are as dangerous as ever right now. Against Lyon, the 32-year-old Uruguayan was as impressive as the Argentine – who had two goals and two assists – even if the stat sheet didn’t show it. Those two are playing so well that the loss of Ousmane Dembélé to injury for about a month appears unlikely to be a major issue. And if Philippe Coutinho’s goal vs. Lyon proves to be the spark he needs to get going, it’s really not going to matter how well Atlético plays the rest of the season.
Barcelona’s defense has been rock-solid all year, allowing just 26 goals in 27 league games, so now that the offense is back on track, a double – the Copa del Rey and La Liga are both Barcelona’s to lose – seems like all but a foregone conclusion.
The real question is whether this team should be thinking treble. Oddsmakers think a treble will be a challenge, dropping Barcelona to third favorite in the Champions League after Friday’s pairings were annouced. We’ll tackle that conversation in a separate piece.