Real Madrid and Barcelona: 15 games to decide LaLiga
Los Blancos and Barça have El Clásico to look forward to at the start of March, a fixture that could have a huge bearing on where the title ends up.
The seasons in Spain come and go but, once again, the race for LaLiga looks to be between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Although there are still 15 matchdays remaining until the end of the competition, the two clubs have put a big red circle in their calendars around the first day of March. At 21:00 that is when the Bernabéu Clásico pits the two heavyweights together, with memories of the first 'leg' still fresh in the mind.
Clásico amid 15-game run-in
Los Blancos will welcome - in the loosest of meanings - the Barça players to their home conscious of its importance but without taking their eyes off the two league games that lie between now and then. Celta Vigo are first up, at home, before a visit to Levante. Quique Setién, likewise, will keep his immediate focus on third-placed Getafe and then Eibar, both at the Camp Nou, before their trip to the capital. And once El Clásico is out of the way, Barça would appear to have the more difficult games still to come with a trip to Sevilla (5th place) and Villarreal (8th). In addition, they will host Atlético Madrid at the Camp Nou at the end of April.
Arguably a positive, at least keeping things on a level playing field for the league, both sides were eliminated from the Copa del Rey in the quarter-finals, which has cleared their schedules of the two-legged semi. Both sides now have eight matches left at home and seven away. Of the current top nine in LaLiga, Zinedine Zidane's team can look at the most complicated visits to Anoeta (to face their cup conquerers, Real Sociedad) and San Mamés to face Athletic.
If Madrid or Barça were to reach the Champions League final in Istanbul on 30 May, from the past weekend's fixtures they would play 23 games in 111 days (one every 4.8 days).
LaLiga schedule for Real Madrid and Barcelona
|26||1 Mar||**MADRID vs BARÇA**|
|27||8 Mar||Betis||Real Soc.|
|30||5 Apr||Real S.||Sevilla|
Home games in bold
Madrid-Barça mask changes
Something has changed, however. On the eve of the famous Carnival, the two title contenders arrive having swapped masks. Madrid's scoring capacity sits at its second worst level after 23 weeks in the last 13 years: just 44 goals. Their secret to negating this is to tightening up at the back, meaning they have conceded the fewest goals 14) after this amount of league matches.
Barça, on the other hand, are the most prolific team in the competition, with 55 goals scored, but this is nothing particular special for the Catalan side. In the last twelve seasons they have scored 60 or more goals by this point, with the only exception being in 2015-16 (56).
Lionel Messi, once again, leads the way for his team. He has been involved in 25 goals, is the favourite for the Pichichi award with 14 goals, and has provided 11 assists. Karim Benzema has responded to the challenge this season, with 13 goals and six assists. A difference, however, can be seen by the fact that the Argentine has had some supporting scorers: Luis Suárez (11), Antoine Griezmann (seven) and Arturo Vidal (six).
In Madrid, centre half Sergio Ramos is the second highest scorer in LaLiga with four (the same as Ansu Fati in blaugrana). Instead, goals for Zidane's side have been shared across the squad, with 17 different players getting in on the act in the league (19 across all competitions) compared to 14 at Barça. In the white colours only Marcelo, Militao, Mendy, Brahim and Mariano are yet to score in the league.
The race is on. LaLiga will be decided in the next 15 domestic matches. And after 1 March we will have a clearer picture of everything...
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