Why Does No One Want to Win La Liga This Season?

Ryan BaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2014


When any team wins a title, it's traditional for Queen's "We Are the Champions" to be blared from the loudspeakers of the venue in celebration. For the winner of the 2013-14 La Liga season, however, perhaps a more suitable anthem would be Ben Folds Five's "The Battle of Who Could Care Less."

This has been one of the most thrilling Spanish Primera title races in years, with the traditional duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid being augmented by Atletico Madrid, who are in pursuit of their first league win in 18 years.

Yet the race has been kept so tight because the big three have each taken multiple opportunities to stumble. It's difficult to even pinpoint each side's respective equivalent of the "Steven Gerrard slip."

Two weeks ago, in the 36th round, the world was shocked when Real, Atleti and Barca all failed to win. It was the first time this season that had happened. But incredibly, none of those teams have managed a win since then.

Yes, the top three have earned five points from a possible 21 in the past two weeks. Is that the form of a pack of title contenders racing for the prize? Is there no Spanish equivalent of the phrase "squeaky bum time" from which they could learn?

It seems nobody actually wants to win La Liga this season.

Take the example of Real Madrid. At the end of April, after 34 league games, they had the world at their feet. They had triumphed over archrivals Barcelona in the Copa del Rey earlier in the month, and they humiliated Bundesliga behemoths Bayern Munich 4-0 at home to set up their best shot at La Decima (their long-awaited 10th European Cup) in years.

Furthermore, they had five more points than they had at the same stage the previous season and were well within the chasing pack in the title race.

Since then, Los Blancos have fallen away spectacularly, earning draws with Valencia and relegation-threatened Real Valladolid and losing at the weekend to Celta Vigo thanks to some terrible defensive errors. 

VIGO, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Luka Modric and Alvaro Morata of Real Madrid CF reacts during the la Liga match between Real Club Celta De Vigo and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Balaidos on May 11, 2014 in Vigo, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

After the Celta loss, Ancelotti's men are mathematically out of the race. It's a bitter pill to swallow, as if they had won that game, they would have been crowned champions next week, provided Barcelona had also won. Failing to capitalise on such an opportunity says a lot about the team's current psyche and may cause concern heading into the Champions League Final. (Whatever happens, however, fans at the White House will still insist this season is better than last year.)

Then, there is the curious case of defending league champions Barcelona. Last Saturday, after a 2-2 draw at Getafe, Tata Martino effectively conceded the title. According to The Guardian's Sid Lowe, he said "this is as far as we can go." 

ELCHE, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Marc Bartra of FC Barcelona reacts during the La Liga match between Elche FC and FC Barcelona at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero on May 11, 2014 in Elche, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

Last weekend, after a goalless draw at Elche, the manager was equally downbeat about their chances. “At the end we were not able to go for the win, as we were worried about a possible goal for Elche,” he said in a press conference (as per Dermot Corrigan of ESPNFC). 

This is an extraordinary response from a title-chasing manager in the run-in. Are these the words of a champion? 

Barcelona are now one victory away from retaining their title—and they are the favourites with bookmakers once again—but they seem cautious, resigned and unwilling to take chances. It's almost as if they're not even concerned with winning the league this year.

Then we have Atletico Madrid: The neutral's favourite who have assembled a fantastically entertaining team on a modest budget. Diego Simeone's men stand on the edge of history, with the opportunity to break the Primera hegemony and win the league and the chance to deny their city neighbours the prize over which they obsess the most: La Decima. 

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 11:  David Villa of Atletico de Madrid reacts as he fail to score during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Malaga CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on May 11, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Get
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Thanks to Barcelona's draw and Los Blancos' loss, Atleti could have won the league on Sunday with a win over Malaga. Yet they were held to a draw thanks to the sterling efforts of goalkeeper Willy Caballero, who denied Adrian a match-winning goal with a fingertip save in injury time.

Now, Atleti won't be receiving a guard of honour at the Camp Nou on Saturday; they'll be fighting a head-to-head battle for the big prize with their Catalan rivals.

Barca sit three points behind the Rojiblancos with a better head-to-head record, so only a win will be enough for them. Yet this is something they have been unable to do this season in five attempts. Martino's men may be playing at home and favoured to win, but Atleti have definitely been their bogey team this season.

It's unclear why exactly no one wants to win La Liga this season, but perhaps the setbacks on this bizarre roller coaster can be assigned to a combination of injuries, apathy and plain bad luck.

It's been a thoroughly unpredictable year in Spain which will climax with a single game in which one of the reluctant title challengers will have the league title thrust upon them. So, in light of this photo finish, the situation has actually produced one clear winner: the football fan.   


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