La Liga has adopted a familiar look with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid back in the top four and both teams might now begin to believe they can finish second as Sevilla continue to stumble.
Barcelona, in particular, look primed for a late surge after winning four games on the bounce, their January signings giving them a boost just when they needed it most.
They still have seven points to overturn to reach second but Xavi Hernandez’s side do have a game in hand, as well as a meeting with Sevilla to come next month at Camp Nou.
Such is the optimism around Barcelona that Xavi was even asked on Wednesday if they could yet win the title, although for Real Madrid to spurn a 15-point advantage with 11 games to go, 12 in Barca’s case, seems unthinkable, reports AFP.
“Mathematics say that we can win the league, so why not?” Xavi said. “The others are failing but not Real Madrid. They have time on their side. It’s very difficult, but not impossible.”
Still, a second-place finish would be mark an impressive turnaround for Barca and Xavi, who took over in November with the team lying ninth. If the league began on January 1, Barcelona would be top.
They should continue their strong run at home to 11th-placed Osasuna on Sunday, with their next game at Real Madrid on March 20, after the second leg against Galatasaray in the Europa League.
“La Liga and the Europa League are the two goals but the first is to be in the Champions League next year,” said Xavi. “We’re already third and the goals now are the two remaining titles. La Liga doesn’t lie to you.”
Madrid had been giving encouragement to the chasing pack after winning only three out of seven games between December and February.
But their 4-1 trouncing of Real Sociedad last weekend was ominously convincing while a momentous comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday hardly suggested a team about to let up.
With Karim Benzema fit and firing again, Madrid, who play at Mallorca on Monday night, look more likely to extend their eight-point cushion in the coming weeks than throw it away.
“Karim is back to being the best Karim, the Karim he was before his injury,” Carlo Ancelotti said on Tuesday.
– Sevilla stumbling –
They have rarely felt any sustained pressure from Sevilla, who have drawn five out of their last seven league games and against lesser opposition too. Valencia, Celta Vigo, Osasuna, Espanyol and Alaves were all able to claim a share of the spoils against Julen Lopetegui’s side.
That has allowed Madrid to cruise clear and leaves Sevilla suddenly looking down rather than up. A visit to Rayo Vallecano, who are on a dreadful run themselves, should at least get them back to winning ways on Sunday.
Atletico Madrid still face a scrap to qualify for the Champions League, despite their 3-1 victory over fellow top-four hopefuls Real Betis last weekend.
That puts Atletico two points ahead of Betis but the scoreline flattered Diego Simeone’s side, who have an awkward game at Cadiz on Friday, four days before their second leg against Manchester United in the Champions League. It might be too soon to think Atletico have turned a corner.
Betis will want to keep up the pressure on Atleti with a win at home to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, while Villarreal and Real Sociedad, in sixth and seventh, are still in contention but have ground to make up after defeats last weekend.
Villarreal host Celta Vigo on Saturday and Real Sociedad are at home to struggling Alaves on Sunday.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Atletico Madrid v Cadiz (2000)
Levante v Espanyol (1300), Granada v Elche (1515), Villarreal v Celta Vigo
(1730), Getafe v Valencia (2000)
Rayo Vallecano v Sevilla (1300), Real Betis v Athletic Bilbao (1515), Real
Sociedad v Alaves (1730), Barcelona v Osasuna (2000)
Mallorca v Real Madrid (2000)