Atlético back in control – but for how long?
The weekend couldn’t have been much better for followers of La Liga’s title race. Despite the mouthwatering prospect of the top four facing each other – Barcelona hosting Atlético Madrid, then Real Madrid taking on Sevilla – it began inauspiciously with Sevilla losing to mid-table Athletic Bilbao days before. This left Julen Lopetegui’s dark horses as only potential spoilers, rather than potential winners.
Fortunately for fans of suspense, Sevilla fulfilled their impromptu role to a tee, holding Zinedine Zidane’s men to a draw when a win would have taken Real top for the first time in five months, following a thrilling goalless draw (really) between Barça and Atlético.
To cut it down to its simplest mathematical form, Diego Simeone’s crew will win the title for the first time since 2014 if they win their remaining three games.
If only it were that simple – but nothing is in this titanic title struggle, in which nerves have hit all of the contenders in recent weeks. It’s easy to see dropped points aplenty going into the midweek programme, with Barça going first at out-of-nick Levante on Tuesday (though they took four points from two games versus Atleti, prompting a reigniting of the race), the leaders face Europe-chasing Real Sociedad on Wednesday and El Real visit unpredictable but enterprising Granada on Thursday, with a visit to the dreaded Athletic up next. The only thing we can be sure of is more twists.
Juve stare into the abyss
Rarely have Juventus been more humbled in the modern age than in Sunday night’s comprehensive home defeat to a Milan side who were everything the outgoing champions weren’t – youthful (yes, even with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line), vibrant and enterprising, and fully deserving of their 3-0 win. It threatens to have lasting consequences for Italy’s dominant club of the last decade, and for their coach Andrea Pirlo.
The result left Juve in fifth place, with the bitter irony of one of the Super League’s chief proponents being out of the coming season’s Champions League now a very real possibility. The club’s sporting director Fabio Paratici has already hinted that Pirlo will be replaced should the doomsday scenario come to pass, and clearly Cristiano Ronaldo and others (some with very tough-to-move contracts) will not be keen on the prospect of Europa League football next season.
What is in Juve’s favour in the top four battle is that don’t just have one target, but three. In addition to Napoli, who are one point ahead of Pirlo’s men, Milan and Atalanta are within three points.
The complication for them is that they have the losing end of the head-to-head record with all three teams, meaning they will finish below them should they end on equal points no matter their goal difference. They go to Sassuolo on Wednesday knowing only a win will do, but facing a side in good form and determined to give their likely-outgoing coach Roberto De Zerbi a good send-off.
Nagelsmann aims to sign off with silverware
The last five minutes changed Julian Nagelsmann’s mind. In Saturday’s dress rehearsal for the DfB Pokal final between his RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund, the former came back from two goals down before the irrepressible Jadon Sancho‘s late winner gave the latter the win – and, according to Nagelsmann, took the game from telling us little ahead of Thursday’s showpiece in Berlin to giving Dortmund a slight edge.
From Dortmund’s perspective, the aspect of feeling the opposition out before the final hardly came into it. This was an absolutely vital victory for Edin Terzic’s team in their aim to snare a Champions League place after a disappointing season. It was easy to see from the injured Erling Haaland’s celebrations in the stands, and on the pitch afterwards, just how much this meant to BVB.
So while a trophy would be welcome recompense for Terzic after a tricky season as he prepares to hand the reins to Marco Rose, Dortmund’s focus has been elsewhere. For Nagelsmann, there’s the opportunity to sign off before joining Bayern Munich with Leipzig’s first-ever major trophy. They have to buck recent trends – Leipzig have only beaten BVB twice in 10 previous meetings and not since 2017 – but if anyone can do it, it has to be this most inventive of coaches.