Tuesday, January 25, 2022

La Liga title race: Real Madrid are the favorites, but who has a chance to catch them?

While all the talk in La Liga has been about Real Madrid, and rightfully so, the race is much more than just Los Blancos at the moment. While Real Madrid have a five-point lead atop the table and don’t really have to worry about rivals Barcelona or Atletico Madrid, they are a poor run of form away from seeing the race tighten up.

Following Sunday’s league action, highlighted by the 2-2 draw between Atletico Madrid and Villarreal, here’s a look at the table, who are real contenders and who are pretenders. 

Table

Real have played one more game more than the rest of the top six. 

  1. Real Madrid, 49 points
  2. Sevilla, 44 points

  3. Real Betis, 34 points
  4. Atletico Madrid, 33 points
  5. Real Sociedad, 33 points
  6. Barcelona, 32 points

Clear favorites: Real Madrid

They’ve scored 12 goals more than any other team, they are conceding under a goal a game, and they are on pace to win the league fairly comfortably if they keep it up. Saturday’s 4-1 win over Valencia was a statement ahead of Tuesday’s El Clasico against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup semifinals. Carlo Ancelotti has returned to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu and quickly has transformed them into the best team in the league, and a big reason why is the blossoming bond between Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr. in attack. Benzema has 22 goals on the season, 17 in La Liga, and Vinicius has bagged 14 goals, with 12 of them coming in domestic action. They have combined to nearly match Barcelona’s total scoring output on the campaign. Add Marco Asensio’s revival, and you’ve got a potent attack that should lead them to the title come April or May. 

Biggest contenders: Sevilla

They’ve never really been viewed as contenders, but if it could happen any year, it is this one. Julen Lopetegui’s team is within striking distance of Real, having won four of its last five. Sevilla have have a top-tier attack, and what is so impressive is that they have a ton of contributors. When looking at all competitions, seven players have scored multiple goals for the club, with Rafa Mir leading the way with nine goals. Erik Lamela has added some value, Lucas Ocampos continues to be consistent, and their high energy and confidence shows on the pitch. In the end, they likely won’t have enough, but they are by far Real’s biggest rival to win the league.

Most likely to enter title race: Barcelona

Let me be clear here — I think this is a two-horse race, and I’d put Real Madrid’s chances of winning it at 95 percent. I think Barcelona are still quite poor and have a lot of work to do, but if there is one team that I think that can get back into it, it’s Barca.

Here’s why: They’ve brought in Ferran Torres, who can make a difference up top, they have a sensational young nucleus, and they now have a manager who already has the respect of the players. While they would need to be near perfect the rest of the way, and while I think they’ll be officially out of the race soon, I just think that the pieces are there for both progression and noise to be made … as long as they can register Ferran.

Club that needs a miracle: Atletico Madrid

Last year’s champs looked like Real’s biggest contender early on, but the injury bug has done them in. They’ve been playing midfielders at centerback, and their current center-back pairing of Felipe and Mario Hermoso is far from what Diego Simeone wants. They’ve gone from almost impossible to score on in recent years to pretty much conceding every game. If they can somehow stay healthy defensively, and if the attack can get Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez back on track, they’ll have a chance to apply some pressure, but that is about it.

Top-six non-contenders: Real Betis and Real Sociedad 

Weird seeing these two clubs in the top six, but make no mistake — they are not contenders. They have far too many holes, they’ve lost too many games at this point to be contenders, and the attacks can be inconsistent, that it would be silly to believe they can avoid multiple slip-ups. It’s is good for the league to see some different names in the top six, and third and 10th place are separated by just six points. If either can finish in the top four, it will be a hugely successful season.

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