The weekend saw the second El Derbi of the current La Liga campaign, and it finished all-square, leaving Real Madrid in third place trailing their city rivals Atlético by five points, while Atlético have a game in hand. Luis Suárez gave the hosts the lead on fifteen minutes – a goal that will have been celebrated as much at the Camp Nou as at the Wanda Metropolitano – but this was cancelled-out two minutes from time by Karim Benzema.
According to tipsters for football, Atlético are still favourites to lift the La Liga title. But their failure to take all three points on Sunday will have given hope to Real, and in particular Barcelona.
It has been a difficult season for Barcelona. Ronald Koeman took charge at the Camp Nou last summer, replacing Quique Setién after the previous campaign ended in disastrous fashion, Barca losing out on the La Liga title to fierce rivals Real Madrid, while crashing out of the Champions League after suffering a humiliating 8-2 defeat at home to Bayern Munich.
The club was also rocked by a transfer demand from Lionel Messi, while revelations about La Pulga’s earnings were an unwelcome piece of gossip that engulfed the club. And despite being a Barca playing legend, there were many underwhelmed with Koeman’s appointment given his recent managerial track record.
It’s fair to say that Koeman had inherited what some would have viewed as a poisoned chalice.
And when the new season started, Barca’s form was inconsistent and they lost four of their first twelve games, including the first El Clasico – Real Madrid won 3-1 at the Camp Nou – and a 1-0 defeat away to Atlético Madrid.
But since losing 1-0 at Cádiz in December, Koeman’s men have clicked into gear, and are now sixteen La Liga games unbeaten, winning thirteen and drawing three. At the same time, they’ve also reached the Copa del Rey final where they will face Athletic Bilbao. And while Lionel Messi may have asked to leave the Camp Nou last summer, his form has been outstanding and he’s been central to Barca’s La Liga revival.
And this return to form has brought them right back into the La Liga title race. Just a few months ago, Barca were some way off the pace. But their lengthy unbeaten run has seen them slowly creep up into second place, and following last weekend’s results when Atlético could only draw with Real, and Barca won away to Osasuna, the gap between first and second place was reduced to just three points.
It has been some turnaround for Barca and Koeman. Although they are on the brink of exiting the Champions League, they are right back in the fight for the La Liga title.