La Liga’s Race for the Title: Real Madrid and Barcelona Rivalry Intensifies

Tom Roddy

With little over three weeks remaining of the La Liga season, Barcelona and Real Madrid are tied level on 78 points, fighting for the title.

Luis Enrique’s Barcelona won El Clasico last week, with Lionel Messi scoring the stoppage time goal to take the Catalan club above Real in the table on goal difference.

Zinedine Zidane’s Real has played one game fewer than Barca, with five games left of the season to the four of Enrique’s team.

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Here, Newsweek looks at the key features that will decide the 2016/17 season.

Enrique and Zidane

Luis Enrique, left, and Zinedine Zidane at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, April 23. Zidane's Real Madrid has one more game to play than Barcelona. Reuters / Sergio Perez

Remaining Liga Fixtures

Barcelona: Espanyol (a), Villarreal (h), Las Palmas (a), Eibar (h).

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Real Madrid: Valencia (h), Granada (a), Sevilla (h), Málaga (a), Celta Vigo (a).

Team News

For Real Madrid, the standout absentee for much of the run-in is Gareth Bale after the Welsh forward suffered a calf injury during the defeat to Barca. He is not expected to return until mid-May. Zidane has been without center-back Pepe since he fractured a rib in the Madrid derby on April 8.

Barcelona right-back Aleix Vidal and midfielder Rafinha are out for the rest of the season with injuries, while Jeremy Mathieu and Andres Iniesta have picked up knocks but should be fit for the remaining matches.

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Cup competitions

Having crashed out of the Champions League this month, defeated by Juventus, Barcelona can focus solely on the league. Enrique’s team is in the final of the Copa del Rey, taking on Alaves on May 27 in what will be the Spaniard’s last game as manager.

Real, however, will have less rest time as it seeks a third successive European title. Real faces city rivals Atletico in the competition again this year, having beaten it in the final last year. The two legs will be played on May 2 and May 10, leaving little time for recovery in league matches.

What the managers say

Zidane: “Everybody is entitled to think what they want, like [the idea that] now Barcelona will win La Liga and Real Madrid are worthless. We won’t change anything about what we’re doing.”

Enrique: “I don’t think we’re favorites now. Madrid have a game more than us [to play], so can move back ahead of us. Both teams will have a difficult time between now and end of the season. There will be surprises, for sure, and results people don’t expect. We have to be prepared and make sure we don’t slip up.”

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