According to reports in the Spanish press, Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo believes that Barcelona have already sealed the league title. Many would queue up to agree with him, especially after Real and Atletico Madrid served up a tame stalemate at the first ever derby at Wanda Metropolitano last weekend.
The two Madrid sides have not only been the top sides in Europe in recent years, they’re the only teams that have managed to pose a challenge to Barcelona domestically over the past decade.
However, at the start of the 13th round of fixtures Barca sit pretty at 34 points after 12 games – only dropping two points all season so far – while both Madrid sides are 10 points adrift of the leaders with 24.
So, the question: is the 10-point game with less than a third of the season gone already unsurmountable?
Before answering that considering this ominous fact: Real Madrid have never won the league after coming back from a deficit of eight or more points.
This means that for Real Madrid to have any inkling of a chance of rewriting history, which granted they’ve been doing on other fronts over the past year or so, they would need to do the double over Barcelona. But even that would still require Barca to lose points elsewhere, and Real to virtually not drop any more points at all.
Meanwhile, Atletico’s overall struggles are further underscored by their struggles in the Champions League, which could see them drop down to the Europa League if things don’t go drastically their way on Match day 6.
But amidst talks of the Madrid sides hunting down Barcelona, we’re forgetting the team that is actually sitting one place below the leaders and above both Atletico and Real.
With 30 points from 12 games, Valencia are not only unbeaten in La Liga, they’re only four points behind Barcelona. Furthermore, their goal difference of 21 is almost the same as that of Real and Atletico combined. Also, their tally of 32 goals this season is only one less than the leaders Barcelona.
Rodrigo has had a major impact on these numbers, being involved in nearly a third of Valencia’s goals with 7 goals and 3 assists, playing behind Simone Zaza. Goncalo Guedes, on loan from PSG, has been involved in a quarter as well with 3 goals and 5 assists.
So yes, for all intents and purposes, Valencia are Barcelona’s sole title challengers. And hence there’s a fair chance that we might get the decisive answer to our question on Barcelona having potentially sealed La Liga, as the two sides meet at Mestalla tonight (Sunday).
It is safe to say that a win for Barcelona at Valencia should wrap up La Liga as early as the 13thround.
Even so, despite the all-conquering surge that Barca have been on, there remains the fact that they haven’t faced off against too many of the top sides. Only two of their league games have been against teams that currently occupy the top seven positions in the league table – a 2-1 home win against Sevilla and the 1-1 draw against Atletico, the only side to take any points off Barcelona so far.
The imperious form showed by Barcelona is contrary to what was predicted following Neymar’s unceremonious departure, and in complete contrast to what the league leaders displayed in August, when a rampant Real Madrid comfortably outdid them home and away in the Super Cup.
Therefore, a win away to Valencia, would not only mathematically ascertain Barcelona’s league dominance, it would also ensure that they overcome a big name, an in-form side, to maintain their status as the runaway leaders in Spain.
With archenemy Real Madrid’s league campaign going pear-shaped, and a resurgent Tottenham Hotspurs looking like keeping Madrid in second position in the Champions League group, Barcacould ensure that their rivals’ year ends in shambles when they travel to the Bernabeu on December 23.
Cristiano Ronaldo appears to have already set his focus on a hat-trick of Champions League titles and the World Cup in the summer, after which he might hit the exit door. On the flipside, Luis Suarez ended his goalless drought against Leganes, as Lionel Messi tops the scorers’ chart with 12 times as many league goals as Ronaldo.
Real and Barca definitely appear to be headed in the opposite direction. But Valencia could throw a spanner in the works, and propel themselves into contention with a win tonight.