10 talking points as LaLiga hits the business end

Domestic action returns this weekend and although the Premier League title race appears to be a forgone conclusion, it is anything but in Spain’s top flight.

Atletico Madrid top LaLiga after leading the way for much of the campaign as they look to end Barcelona’s and Real Madrid’s stranglehold on the division.

Atletico were last crowned champions in 2014 with Barca finishing as runners-up and Real in third. That’s the positions they find themselves in heading into the business end of the season. 

The title race is set to go the distance but there are also plenty of other talking points as we enter the run-in. Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the big issues with just 10 games remaining. 

Lionel Messi could be heading into his last few games for Barcelona with his deal up in June

Lionel Messi could be heading into his last few games for Barcelona with his deal up in June

1. Will Atletico hold on to their lead or will the big two reel them in?

The title is Atletico’s to lose. They were six points clear of Barcelona and eight points ahead of Real after beating Athletic Bilbao in March.

However two more games have since been played and the gap has been reduced. Diego Simeone’s side are just four points clear of a resurgent Barcelona with Real recovering to sit just six points off the pace.

Atletico dropped two points at Getafe prior to the international break with their rivals ramping up the pressure.

Atletico Madrid are four points clear of Messi's Barcelona at the top with 10 games remaining

Atletico Madrid are four points clear of Messi’s Barcelona at the top with 10 games remaining

Simeone’s outfit need to hold their nerve with Barca and Real Madrid waiting for them to slip up. Atletico face a tough test against fourth-placed Sevilla on Sunday and the title could come down to their trip to the Nou Camp on May 9.

Atletico were knocked out of the Champions League by Chelsea, meaning they can focus solely on securing a famous triumph.

What a season it would be if Atletico can hold on and seal glory. 

2. Can Barcelona save their season after Euro agony?

It’s been far from easy for Ronald Koeman in his first season at the helm of the Catalan giants.

The Dutchman was under heavy scrutiny in the first half of the season as performances and results were below par for a club of Barcelona’s stature but the club has begun a mini revival in the Spanish top flight.

They’ve clawed their way back into contention and are mounting a significant challenge to win back the domestic title – something that did not seem likely several months ago.

Barcelona have begun a mini revival of late and have mounted the pressure on Atletico

Barcelona have begun a mini revival of late and have mounted the pressure on Atletico

They thrashed Huesca 4-1 and Real Sociedad 6-1 in the two games prior to stars jetting off for international duty, gathering momentum at just the right time.

They emphatically crashed out of the Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain, meaning European priorities will not interfere with the finale to their 2020-21 campaign. 

However Barcelona, who have by far the best goal difference, face Europa League-chasing Villarreal and Granada as well as rivals Atletico and Real in the run-in and have a Copa del Rey final date with Athletic Bilbao on April 17. The final games give Koeman the chance to salvage their season.

3. The Champions League could take Real’s attention

Just like their arch rivals it’s been a topsy-turvy season for the reigning champions but it could still turn out to be a successful one.

Zinedine Zidane’s side progressed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and will fancy their chances against an inconsistent Liverpool outfit.

Real have been far from their best but are still in with a shot at retaining the domestic crown. However the LaLiga giants are serial Champions League winners and that could take their focus. 

Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid side have been far from their best but are still in contention

Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid side have been far from their best but are still in contention

Manager Zidane became the first manager to win the Champions League in three successive years in 2018 and it would be another monumental achievement if he was to guide Real to glory in Istanbul in May.

Real’s season will be defined by the next couple of weeks where they face Jurgen Klopp’s Reds with El Clasico sandwiched in between.

European action could provide a welcome distraction but it’ll need a fine juggling act from Zidane to keep them competing on both fronts until the end. Zidane has come under pressure and a trophyless season could move him closer to the exit door with just a year left on his deal.

4. The race for the Golden Boot – that man Messi again?

Eyebrows were raised when Barcelona let Uruguay forward Luis Suarez move to Atletico for a mere £5.5million and how that decision has backfired.

The veteran striker is flourishing at the Wanda Metropolitano, notching 19 goals in 28 matches with just his friend Lionel Messi ahead of him on 23. 

Suarez has scored three in his last four league games while Messi has been in blistering form, finding the back of the net five times as well as supplying five assists in the same period.

Luis Suarez has had an exceptional first season at Wanda Metropolitano after summer move

Luis Suarez has had an exceptional first season at Wanda Metropolitano after summer move

Nevertheless with Atletico ahead Suarez’s goals could be the difference between them and Barcelona winning LaLiga this season. Messi is aiming for the prize for the fifth straight year – the last time it wasn’t him it was Suarez, back in 2016. 

Just like the title race this is a battle that is set to go down to the wire and Real forward Karim Benzema could still play a part.

The 33-year-old is on 17 goals, just two behind Suarez and has scored five in his previous three games. The trio are all guns blazing for the business end.   

5. Can anyone pip Sevilla to Europe’s top table?

It’s no surprise that Atletico, Barca and Real make up the top three as they have occupied those places at the end of the season for the last eight years.

The difference tends to be who can breakthrough and join them in the final Champions League spot.

Last season Sevilla filled that place and they look like they are going to claim it again as they are 10 points ahead of fifth-placed Real Sociedad.

Manager Julen Lopetegui has impressed and given Sevilla a stable foundation since 2019

Manager Julen Lopetegui has impressed and given Sevilla a stable foundation since 2019

Manager Julen Lopetegui has impressed since taking charge in 2019 – winning the Europa League and qualifying for Europe’s top table in his first season at the helm.

The club is in a stable and promising position after the Spaniard signed a new contract until 2024 in January.

Defenders Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos have both been key performers as has Joan Jordan in midfield. While striker Youssef En-Nesyri is behind Messi, Suarez and Benzema and Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno in the scoring charts. 

6. The Europa League fight

Sociedad, Real Betis and Villarreal are currently in the Europa League spots with Granada in eighth, seven points adrift.

Granada have been the surprise package in the competition this season, reaching the quarter-finals where they’ll meet Manchester United this month. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are expected to be a step too far for the Spanish outfit and their likely exit could heighten their need to finish in the top seven.

Unai Emery's Villarreal side are currently in seventh place and in Europa League quarter-finals

Unai Emery’s Villarreal side are currently in seventh place and in Europa League quarter-finals

Sociedad were totally annihilated by Barca before the break and are without a win in two while Betis, managed by former Manchester City and West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini, have only lost once in their last six games.   

Villarreal are also in good form, winning their last four in all competitions and have also reached the last eight of the Europa League.

Former Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal boss Unai Emery loves the competition after winning three on the bounce at Sevilla and their European ambitions could boost Granada’s hopes of usurping them in the table. 

7. The battle to beat the drop – it’s tight down there

Only nine points separate the bottom eight with basement boys Huesca just four points from safety. Osasuna in 13th are just seven points clear of 18th-placed Eibar.

Osasuna welcome Getafe, in 14th, on Saturday in what will be a pivotal clash to try to ease the pressure heading into the final few weeks. 

Six days later Huesca host 17th-placed Elche in what will be a huge six-pointer. 

Eibar, sitting in 18th, have the hardest run-in of the bottom eight sides in Spain's top flight

Eibar, sitting in 18th, have the hardest run-in of the bottom eight sides in Spain’s top flight

Alaves are the only side in the bottom eight that do not have to face any of the top three. 

Huesca and Elche still have to play leaders Atletico, 16th-placed Real Valladolid face Barcelona and Atletico while Cadiz (15th) play Real, Getafe play Barcelona and Real and Osasuna face Real and Atletico. 

Eibar have the hardest run-in of the lot as they have to line up against all three giants with the visit of Barcelona on May 23 – the final day of the season.  

8. Can Valencia finally relax?

Valencia are 10 points clear of the dreaded relegation zone and barring a major slip should be safe.

The Spanish side has seen a rapid decline from Champions League regulars to living perilously close to the drop.

After missing out on European football last season Valencia felt the financial effects and that was compounded by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Valencia should be able to breathe a sigh of relief after a difficult season in Spain's top flight

Valencia should be able to breathe a sigh of relief after a difficult season in Spain’s top flight

Several top players were sold last summer, including Ferran Torres to Manchester City, Rodrigo to Leeds, Geoffrey Kondogbia to Atletico as well as Francis Coquelin and Dani Parejo to Villarreal amid the financial troubles.

Despite losing multiple stars former Watford boss Javi Gracia has offered some stability and steadied what appeared to be a sinking ship.

They’re not out of the woods just yet but the club that won the Copa del Rey just two years ago will breathe a huge sigh of relief should they get through this season unscathed.

9. Messi and Ramos’ last hurrah?

Ever since Argentina star Messi expressed his desire to leave Barca last summer the future of one of the best players to ever grace the field of play has dominated the headlines.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner was not granted his wish last year but he is yet to pen fresh terms at the Nou Camp with his current deal set to expire in June. However he now appears set to stay at the Catalan giants.

City and PSG were interested in a free transfer but he has rediscovered some of his best form in recent weeks as things have improved both on and off the field following the appointment of Joan Laporta as club president. Messi is now eyeing a league and cup double to end the season on a high.

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos could leave Spain this summer with no new deal yet agreed

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos could leave Spain this summer with no new deal yet agreed

But Spain could lose Real captain Sergio Ramos this summer with the defender also yet to agree a new contract at the Bernanbeu.

The 35-year-old centre-half is holding out for more than a one-year deal but Real are unwilling to budge.

Ramos, who has been linked to PSG and Manchester United, has been at Real since 2005 and what a servant he has been to Los Blancos. He would love to bid farewell with another trophy to add to the collection.

10. Young player of the year 

Although not much has gone to plan for Barca boss Koeman the way he has bled youngsters into his team and handled their development has been a huge positive.

Eighteen-year-old Pedri has seized the opportunity given to him this season and is very much in the running for young player of the year. His impressive displays earned him a call-up to the Spanish senior side for their recent 2022 World Cup qualifiers.  

Another youngster introduced to the fray of the Spain national team was Eibar forward Bryan Gil. The 20-year-old made his senior international debut in their 1-1 draw with Greece.

Eibar forward Bryan Gil earned his first senior Spain call-up last month after impressing

Eibar forward Bryan Gil earned his first senior Spain call-up last month after impressing

Eibar are struggling and face a tough task to stay in the division. Gil’s promising performances this season suggest he may well be snapped up in the not too distant future.

Atletico’s £118m man Joao Felix could also be in with a shot at being named young player of the year but he is yet to fully live up to his hefty price-tag.

The 21-year-old could burst into life in the remaining 10 games and how timely that would be for the league leaders.

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