Barcelona closing in on La Liga title
MADRID: Barcelona will have one eye on the Copa del Rey final while Europe is the main focus for Real and Atletico Madrid so what is left for La Liga? Barca are 11 points clear at the top of the table but, with an overhaul of the squad expected in the summer, few players can afford to ease off during the run-in.
Atletico will hope to beat rivals Real to second but both teams have their priorities now in Europe, with Real facing Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals and Atleti up against Arsenal in the last four of the Europa League next week.
Sevilla face a crucial few days in their chase for European football next season while at the bottom of the table, Levante can all but secure safety with a win over Malaga. Barca squad playing for their futures. The league title may be all but sewn up and the treble dream extinguished but Barca’s players are now playing for places, both in the short-term, for Saturday’s Copa del Rey final against Sevilla, and further ahead, to stay beyond the summer. Andres Iniesta and Samuel Umtiti are both pondering their futures while successors, even if not replacements, need to be found for ageing stars like Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Luis Suarez. Ousmane Dembele and Andre Gomes still have it all to prove. Fringe players are expected to be given a chance against ninthplaced Celta Vigo today. They need to impress.
Isco has shown the way in how to regain favour under Zinedine Zidane, the Spaniard continuing his recent surge with a goal and an assist against Malaga on Sunday. After scoring a hattrick for Spain against Argentina, Zidane was impressed enough to start the midfielder against Juventus last week, and Gareth Bale might draw encouragement from Isco’s revival. Bale’s strained relationship with Zidane took another turn for the worse after he was harshly hauled off at half-time against Juve but he may be given another shot against Athletic Bilbao tomorrow. With the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich to come next week, Bale needs a performance.
Atletico juggling pursuit of Europa League glory Atletico Madrid travel to Real Sociedad on Thursday, knowing defeat could give Barca the chance to wrap up the title in their next match against Deportivo La Coruna on April 29. But another strong season for Atleti, in which Champions League qualification is already confirmed, can be given extra gloss if they win the Europa League. The challenge for Diego Simeone’s paper-thin squad is to stay fresh, with the two-legged semi-final against Arsenal starting at Emirates Stadium next week. Real Sociedad may be primed to take advantage.
Sevilla’s season could be defined by the next five days as a trip to lowly Deportivo La Coruna on Tuesday is followed by Saturday’s Copa del Rey final. There was no shame in their admirable Champions League run ending at the hands of Bayern last week but fail to beat Deportivo, and Sevilla may struggle to qualify for the Europa League next term, let alone the continent’s premier club competition. A more difficult route to the Europa League would be to beat Barca and win the cup. It is time to deliver. —AFP