Euro 2020 Special

La Liga: Barcelona Edge Past Real Madrid In Title Race

Barcelona picked up three crucial points with their 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid on Sunday, moving past defending champions Real Madrid in the La Liga title race. Los Blancos failed to spark against Villarreal earlier in the week, giving Barcelona crucial three points that might decide the fate of the final tally during the final weeks of the tournament. Real Sociedad and Real Betis cruised ahead with wins during the weekend, leaving both Atletico Madrid and Villarreal outside the top-four slots in the table.

Here’s a look at where the La Liga title race stands after Matchday 16 of the 2022-23 season:


Real Madrid Stumble

Defending champions Real Madrid blew their chance to catch up to Barcelona on Sunday, with a disjointed effort by the team raising doubts over their fortunes for the remainder of the season. Yeremy Pino opened the score for Villarreal early in the second half before a penalty-kick was awarded to both sides by the referee in quick succession. Karim Benzema converted from the spot in the 60th minute to level the scores, but Gerard Moreno’s penalty-kick just three minutes later sealed the win for the hosts.

Real Madrid have now failed to defeat Villarreal at the La Ceramica stadium for five straight years. While Carlo Ancelotti’s men put up a tough fight on the field, Villarreal were undoubtedly the better team. The hosts had more shots on target, 5 to 3, and a better xG at the end of the game – 2.94 to 2.02. If not for Karim Benzema’s penalty-kick, Real Madrid would have come out of the game with no goals scored.

Carlo Ancelotti now has to deal with multiple problems at the Bernabeu in the second half of the season. The starting XI on Saturday did not feature a single Spanish-born player for the first time in the history of the Spanish giants. For a club that is synonymous with Spanish nationalism, this signifies the increasing dominance of foreign players in every league around the world, while also showing the drop in the quality of Spanish football.

Player fatigue also remains a concern, according to Carlo Ancelotti. With the FIFA World Cup 2022 taking up two months in the middle of the season, clubs across Europe are forced to rest key players to manage their workload, especially as the next three months will see a congested schedule. Carlo Ancelotti will have a busy transfer window on his hands this month, with both the need to sign backup players and strengthen the existing starting XI making his job difficult.


Barcelona Get The Edge But Will It Last?

Xavi Hernandez’s side could manage to score only one goal against former champions Atletico Madrid on Sunday, but that was enough to give them three valuable points that might decide the fate of La Liga this season. With 41 points from 16 games, the Blaugrana are now the sole leaders of La Liga, and with a month of relatively easy fixtures ahead, they are likely to retain that lead in the coming weeks.

Ousmane Dembele’s goal in the 22nd minute was the only difference between both sides on Sunday, with the visitors slowly losing control of the game in the second half. But Atletico Madrid could not convert the opportunities provided into goals. Ferran Torres and Stefan Savic were both sent off for violent conduct in stoppage time, giving Barcelona a narrow win.

But all is not well at Camp Nou either, with numerous problems likely to hold back Xavi’s side from outright sealing their advantage in La Liga. Ousmane Dembele was inconsistent for much of the game despite scoring the goal, and Barcelona missed the presence of Robert Lewandowski on the field. The Polish superstar will not be back in the team this month as he continues to serve the three-match suspension handed to him, and it is evident that Barcelona have once again spent all their money at the front on one key player alone.

After a poor summer transfer window in which he made few signings, Xavi will hope for a better outcome from the January transfer season.


What Lies Ahead

Despite giving tough competition to Barcelona on Sunday, Atletico Madrid have once again dropped points in the league. This is the third defeat for Diego Simeone’s men in their past five games in the league, with the former champions dropping to the fifth spot with just 27 points from 16 games. Both Real Sociedad and Real Betis have cruised ahead, with Villarreal, Athletic Club and Osasuna piling up the pressure on the Colchoneros.

For now, the action turns to Saudi Arabia, where both Real Madrid and Barcelona will be in action in the semifinals of the Supercopa de Espana. Both the Spanish giants will return home to compete in Copa del Rey fixtures before action shifts back to La Liga once again. With a two-way battle for the La Liga trophy now clear, the El Clasico in March might prove to be the deciding game for the championship.




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