With Real Madrid’s lead having been cut from ten points to just four, every round of games has taken on added importance.
A Cristiano Ronaldo inspired victory in the Madrid derby on Wednesday night prevented Barcelona from gaining further ground but even though it was a huge result for Real Madrid, and one that should help to calm the nerves of some of their players, the title race is far from over.
The Clásico is next weekend, and for Barcelona to stand any chance of winning their fourth Liga title in a row, it’s almost certainly a must-win game for them.
Aside from the encounter with Jose Mourinho’s side at the Camp Nou, Barca face potentially tricky away fixtures at Levante this weekend, and then against Betis in the final round of games.
Fifth placed Levante have already beaten Real Madrid at home this season, although a dip in form has seen them win just three of their nine home games following the winter break.
Real Betis also gave Madrid a tough match when the sides met in February and at times looked like taking a point from the game before eventually losing 3-2. They were also the first visiting team to score at the Camp Nou this season, ending Barcelona’s run of nine consecutive clean sheets. Barcelona may have won 4-2, but will be aware of the threat posed by Betis not least from last year’s 3-1 defeat in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final against a Betis side who at the time were in the Spanish second division.
Barcelona realistically need to win all six of their remaining games and if they can achieve that, then the pressure will firmly be on Real Madrid’s stuttering side, who have more than one potential slip-up of their own.
Saturday’s home match against Sporting Gijon should be a formality and nor should a side of Real Madrid’s quality be too worried about dropping points in their final away game at Granada.
But Mallorca and Sevilla on their day are each capable of taking advantage of any tension at the Santiago Bernabeu when they visit the Spanish capital.
And Real Madrid’s away fixtures are tougher still – not only do they have to travel to Catalonia to face Barcelona, but also to San Mames in the Basque country to take on Athletic Bilbao. The latter may be made slightly less dangerous to Real’s title ambitions if Bilbao have their focus elsewhere – such as the Europa League semi final or the final of the Copa del Rey – but Athletic’s rivalry with Real Madrid is fierce and there’ll be no shortage in desire to get a result against Madrid in front of their own fans.
When Barcelona fell ten points behind, I felt they still had a chance of winning the title if they were able to win their remaining 16 games, something I honestly couldn’t see them being able to do.
With ten wins on the bounce, they’re on course to achieve the near impossible but there’s still so many potential twists left in the title race before any trophy is handed out, it’s difficult to predict the eventual winner.
The only prediction I’m willing to make is that the question of who will be crowned 2011/12 Spanish champions is one that will keep us guessing until the season’s final day.