Week 34 of the La Liga season could see Atletico Madrid take giant strides towards claiming their first domestic title since the 1995-96 campaign.
Diego Simeone’s side are three points clear at the top of the table with just five matches remaining, and they face La Liga strugglers Elche on Friday evening.
With Real Madrid out of action this week, Barcelona could move above their rivals into second place with a win over Athletic Bilbao, but their recent form suggests it’ll be a much harder task than first thought.
This weekend will also serve up some big clashes in both the fight for survival and the race for a European places, as the climax of yet another thrilling La Liga season approaches.
|When? (BST/ET)||Home||Away||Prediction||Live Stream|
|April 18, 7.30 p.m./2.30 p.m.||Atletico Madrid||Elche||3-0||Sky Go|
|April 19, 3 p.m./10 a.m.||Osasuna||Valencia||1-2||beIN Sports Play|
|April 19, 5 p.m./12 p.m.||Levante||Getafe||1-1||beIN Sports Play|
|April 19, 7 p.m./2 p.m.||Real Sociedad||Espanyol||2-0||Sky Go|
|April 20, 11 a.m./6 a.m.||Almeria||Celta Vigo||3-2||beIN Sports Play|
|April 20, 4 p.m./11 a.m.||Real Vallecano||Real Betis||1-0||beIN Sports Play|
|April 20, 6 p.m./1 p.m.||Sevilla||Granada||3-1||Sky Go|
|April 20, 8 p.m./3 p.m.||Barcelona||Athletic Bilbao||2-1||Sky Go|
|April 21, 9 p.m./4 p.m.||Malaga||Villarreal||2-2||Sky Go|
Where's The Match?
Much has been said about the form of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi over the past few weeks, and with the Argentinian failing to light up Wednesday’s Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid, his critics were once again out in force.
30 - Lionel Messi didn’t make a touch in Barcelona’s defensive half in the first 45 minutes. Tired. pic.twitter.com/jo3DoOYtHr— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 16, 2014
35 minutes in and Lionel Messi has touched the ball 11 times. #CopaDelRey— Jerrad Peters (@jerradpeters) April 16, 2014
In a match that Barcelona took over 45 minutes to work their way into, Gareth Bale stole the headlines with a brilliant solo goal late in the game to give Madrid a 2-1 win and their 19th Copa del Rey triumph.
It was a goal that an in-form Messi would have been proud of, with Bale showing lightning speed to race down the left flank and slot home past Jose Pinto, as Bleacher Report’s graphic shows:
Expert tactical analysis: Here's how you win a Copa del Rey. pic.twitter.com/vp3zloMrGx— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) April 16, 2014
However, Messi still remains one of the best players on the planet, and as WhoScored.com’s statistics show, he’s scored 25 goals in just 24 La Liga matches this season—figures that any striker would crave.
Barcelona welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Camp Nou on Sunday, with Messi needing to prove the point that he’s still the remarkable talent he always has been. Beware the Messi backlash, Bilbao.
Meanwhile, league leaders Atletico Madrid will be hopeful of welcoming back striker Diego Costa to the fold, having picked up a gruesome leg injury in the club’s recent 2-0 victory over Getafe.
Atletico announced via their Twitter account that manager Diego Simeone has played down concerns of the 25-year-old’s injury, as Sky Sports reported:
“Luckily, Diego Costa only has a wound after hitting the post.”
Simeone also allayed fears of an extended absence for Costa during a press conference according to the report, saying:
"He is happy and well. One more cut does not do anything to this tiger."
Per WhoScored, said tiger has been in tremendous form this season for Atletico, scoring 26 La Liga goals—just two behind the total of Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
With the Spaniard likely to start on Friday, he’ll no doubt be instrumental in guiding the Red and Whites to their 27th league win of the season over a struggling Elche side, pushing them ever closer to a historic title.
Atlético Madrid are closing in on a first title since 1996 Here are the remaining fixtures in the title run-in pic.twitter.com/O2XG7iaAeV— InsideWorldFootball (@insidewldftball) April 14, 2014
Elsewhere, Sevilla will be looking to close the gap on fourth-place Bilbao as they welcome Granada to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, and the big game at the wrong end of La Liga sees Almeria take on Celta Vigo.
It’s been a thrilling season in the Spanish top flight, but with so much still to be settled in the closing weeks of the season, expect more drama and fireworks aplenty.