As One Title Race Looks to Close, Another Starts to Open

It’s your title to lose. That is just about the best thing you can ask for at this stage of the season. A few months ago, Manchester City was in that position. They’ve now fallen behind Manchester United, though, who kept strong pressure on their cross-town rivals throughout the year.

In Spain, Real Madrid appears to be trying to emulate Manchester City. They’ve maintained a healthy distance between Barcelona and themselves for much of the season, but with another tie today against third-place Valencia, that lead has been shaved to four points.

The match against Valencia was clearly frustrating for Madrid. Los Merengues played very well throughout the match. Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post and had several shots on goal (and a few more close to goal). Mesut Ozil made dangerous runs, Karim Benzema provided great service as well as a few great shots on goal, and Angel di Maria looked threatening as well. They were unable to break through, however.

To be fair, Valencia were also impressive. They took the game to Real Madrid, forcing a few saves from Iker Casillas and hitting the post twice. The match was a free-flowing affair with players going from end to end throughout the game. For a neutral, it was an enjoyable, entertaining draw.

For a Real Madrid fan, it was agony. In the past five matches, Madrid has had three draws that they can’t really afford with a team like Barcelona breathing down their necks. The top two teams in Spain are head and shoulders above the rest in the terms of the league table. Looking at the rest of the fixtures for Real Madrid and Barcelona, neither appears to have much of an advantage.

Like the English Premier League, La Liga’s top two teams will be facing each other at the end of April. Unlike the English Premier League, the game in Spain increasingly looks like it will mean a great deal. A few weeks ago, Real Madrid was 10 points ahead of Barcelona. Back then, the fixture at Camp Nou didn’t look like it amount to much. How times have changed.

In contrast, Manchester City and Manchester United had a mere three points between them a few weeks ago and their looming match seemed like it would decide all. Now, eight points separate the English teams. There are still several game to be played, and we’ll likely see more twists and turns, but for the moment, it seems La Liga and the English Premier League have switched in terms of league-topping drama.

Real Madrid’s recent form has been a mixture of crushing victories and low-scoring draws while Barcelona is on a nine match winning streak. I think Barcelona will continue their successful run. I also can’t see them losing at Camp Nou in two weekends. Real Madrid has been playing very well too. Tonight, I felt they were extremely unlucky as they hit the post and had Benzema and Ronaldo repeatedly denied. Sometimes, teams are simply unlucky when it comes to scoring. This wasn’t a match that should have ended in a 0-0 draw, but it did, which gives hope to Barcelona and puts even more pressure on Real Madrid.

Jose Mourinho’s team is running low on breathing room. I think that Real Madrid team has the mental toughness to win La Liga, but it’s critical that they win the Madrid derby this Wednesday. If they don’t, I think Camp Nou will prove too much for them on the 21st, and the title will slip away.

For now, though, the league is still Real Madrid’s to lose. That’s all they can ask for.

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