La Liga Table Week 37: Breaking Down How the Top 3 Sides Can Win League Title

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2014

Alberto Saiz/Associated Press

How ironic that what some fans have termed the most predictable league in the world has one of the best title races in Europe at the moment.

The race for La Liga will go right down to the wire, with first-place Atletico Madrid only four points ahead of third-place Real Madrid.

With so much congestion at the top, it can be difficult to work through all of the possible permutations.

Paul White/Associated Press

Real Madrid have the most work to do, and the reason is the fact that they took only two points off Valencia and Real Valladolid. Turning at least one of those into a win would've meant jumping into second place and closing the gap against Atleti to two points.

La Liga Title Race
1Atletico Madrid28445188
3Real Madrid26646784

Manager Carlo Ancelotti tried not to dwell on the negative after the 2-2 draw against Valencia, per Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC:

We missed a good opportunity, but it is not the end of the world. By winning today, Atletico would have needed a win in Barcelona [on the final day] but now a draw would be enough for them. Cristiano's goal was very important. Losing today would have meant losing La Liga. Now we're still in the fight. It was a crucial goal.

Madrid will need to win both of their matches. A win and a draw won't cut it because Atletico Madrid and Barcelona both own the head-to-head advantage against Real Madrid, meaning one of those two would take the title rather than Madrid if the two clubs finished on 88 points.

Keeping that in mind, in order for Real Madrid to regain the top spot, Atletico will need to lose both of their matches or draw one and lose one. Anything but two Barcelona wins would open the door as well.

In all reality, though, Madrid are firmly outsiders in the title race. The battle between Atletico and Barcelona is where things get interesting.

Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

Atletico Madrid control their own destiny, which is about all you can ask for at this point in the season short of having already clinched the league.

If Atleti take care of their business, that's all she wrote in Spain.

However, having an advantage this late into the season isn't always a guarantee that a club will lock up the title. Just ask Liverpool.

The colossal fixture with Barcelona on the final day will likely decide everything.

As The Guardian's Sid Lowe explained on the most recent edition of the Football Weekly Extra podcast, Atletico would rather prefer to take two points from their last two matches rather than three.

We'll assume that both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona win their respective matches on Sunday. If Barca then upend Atletico next weekend, the Catalans will go top of the table on head-to-head advantage:

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

This is such a weird scenario. Two or four points would secure a club a title for Atletico, but three points might lose it.

These last two matches certainly present an intriguing tactical conundrum.

Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone is better off playing for a draw against Barcelona and possibly even Malaga, if he's so inclined with an eye toward the Champions League final.

As you'd expect, Simeone is doing his best to try and prevent his players from cracking under the pressure that comes with being on the precipice of glory, per Goal's Harry West:

There is no pressure, only responsibility. This is a great moment. All of us who work in football want to reach important situations like this one. We will live the moment as we should and we will continue working in order to continue doing things well. Our way of playing has been based on the collective unit and the team for a long time. We need to keep going, without looking ahead and hoping. That is the best way to prepare for this period. Our future and destiny is marked out for us moving forward. We just need to do what we have to do.

To summarize what has rapidly become a trip down a Spanish rabbit hole, if Atletico draw both, win both or draw one and win one of their final two matches, they take the title.

Barcelona could win La Liga if they pick up two wins or a win and a draw to close the season, in addition to Atletico dropping points in their final fixture.

It's as simple as that.

Thank goodness this is only a three-horse race.


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