LaLiga: Barcelona gain momentum while Atletico Madrid slump amid fluctuating fortunes in Spain
Barcelona have endured political turmoil and indifferent form to close the gap with LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid whose form is on the wane.
How quickly things changed for the top two clubs fighting for the Spanish league title.
It wasn’t long ago that everything seemed to go Atlético Madrid’s way. They were the team to beat and they held a comfortable lead at the top. There were no signs it could be caught.
Barcelona, meanwhile, were struggling on and off the field, enduring political turmoil and experiencing lacklustre results. There were no signs it could return to the top.
But the clubs enter the final stretch of the LaLiga season in contrasting situations, with Atlético slumping and Barcelona gaining momentum.
Both teams were eliminated in the round of 16 of the Champions League, but Barcelona have won four in a row in the league while Atlético have only two wins in its last six matches.
The Catalan club has moved within four points of Atlético ahead of the weekend matches when Atlético host relegation-threatened Alavés on Sunday and Barcelona later visit fifth-placed Real Sociedad. Defending champions Real Madrid are six points off the lead and remain in contention, although their focus will be divided with the Champions League.
There will be 10 league games left for each team after the weekend, with Atlético seeking their first title since 2014 and Barcelona their third in four seasons. The Catalan club will host Atlético in May.
Barcelona, with a new president in place after several months of political turmoil, were eliminated by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League despite playing well in the second leg a week ago. Atlético were ousted by Chelsea on Wednesday after losing both legs.
“Our fans must be upset and disappointed,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said. “But we have to reset and think about what’s ahead for us. We have to learn and improve and continue with the same dedication and enthusiasm.”
Simeone on Wednesday had to answer questions about Luis Suárez, who had been leading the team after joining from Barcelona this season but was upset after being substituted early in the second half in London.
“It’s normal that he wanted to keep playing,” Simeone said. “We felt that we could improve the dynamics of the attack so we made the change.”
Atlético's struggles coincided with some COVID-19 cases within the team and the absences of some players because of injuries and suspensions. Simeone was forced to experiment with different tactical formations and the team didn't adapt quickly. Their usually stout defence faltered and at one point the team endured their worst streak of conceding goals since Simeone took over nearly a decade ago.
The league is the only title Atlético can still win this season, while Barcelona are still competing in the Copa del Rey, where they will face Athletic Bilbao in the 17 April final. Barcelona last season went without a title for the first time since 2007-08.
Madrid still alive
Real Madrid are coming off two consecutive 1-1 draws in the league — at Atlético and against Sociedad — but the team coached by Zinedine Zidane enter their Saturday match against Celta Vigo boosted by their return to the Champions League quarter-finals after two consecutive eliminations in the round of 16. They defeated Atalanta 3-1 on Tuesday to advance 4-1 on aggregate.
Fourth-place Sevilla, sitting three points behind Madrid, visit Valladolid on Saturday. Sevilla have a nine-point gap over Sociedad in the final Champions League qualification spot.
Losing to Athletic Bilbao means Atletico Madrid have won only six of their last 14 league games, with the momentum gained from consecutive wins over Eibar and Huesca proving short-lived.
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Koeman will be banned from the bench for Barca's matches at Valencia on Sunday and at home to lead leaders Atletico Madrid the following weekend as the Catalan giants try to snatch the title from current champions Real Madrid.
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