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La Liga Title Race Goes To Last Day

la-liga-standingsThe league season might be a marathon not a sprint but some campaigns are so closely contested that the 26 miles comes down to the last 100 meters all the same.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have slogged their way through 37 games, scoring 217 goals between them but it will be the last 90 minutes of the season that will decide who wins the La Liga.

Super Sunday threw up its fair share of surprises, the biggest of which was bottom club Levante ending Atletico Madrid’s chances of lifting the title.

Already-relegated Levante fell behind after just 81 seconds when Fernando Torres scored but Victor Casadesus equalised on the half hour mark and with a minute left Giuseppe Rossi popped up to beat Jan Oblak – the goalkeeper who had only let in 16 goals all season before the penultimate round of matches.

Diego Simeone watched it all unfold from a portacabin style radio booth in Levante’s no-thrills stadium.

Banned from the touchline for the final three games of the season maybe it would have been different had he been screaming at his players pitchside. Instead like a caged tiger he saw the lights go out on Atleti’s La Liga push, helpless to do anything about it.

It leaves Real Madrid as the only team that can stop Barcelona winning their 24th league title. The fact that they have made it to the last day with a chance of finishing up as Champions is little short of astonishing.

Zinedine Zidane wore the look of a man who had taken too long a siesta and woken up not knowing if it was first thing in the morning or last thing at night back in February, when his Real Madrid side lost 1-0 to Atletico and didn’t appear to be playing for their new coach.

Madrid have been transformed since then, winning their last 11 games and they go to Deportivo next Saturday knowing if they can extend that run to 12 and Barcelona fail to beat Granada away they will be Champions.

In their favour they have that wonderful feeling of knowing they have already surpassed expectations.

This season looked ruined with the sacking of Rafa Benitez and the humiliating Copa del Rey exit courtesy of an administrative cock-up. The 2015-16 highlights DVD looked like going straight into the bargain bin at the club shop, instead it could end up telling the tale of a glorious double.

Gareth Bale should take huge credit for the turnaround. He was not on the pitch for the 3-2 win over Valencia but he was a lone voice about a month ago telling team-mates the league was still on. He also got the goals in the last two games before victory over Valencia that kept the flame alight. He will be back next week for the visit to Deportivo.

Barca still hold the best hand however. If they do get over the line first this will be remembered as Luis Suarez’ league. His 37 goals ought to win him top scorer in Spain and the Golden Boot, especially if he can add to that tally next week against Granada.

Both Granada and Deportivo are safe so only have pride and the integrity of the competition to play for. In seasons gone by, we might have heard rumours suggesting a lorry load of cash had been driven up to Depor’s door with Barca promising bonuses to players in return for beating Real.

And an even bigger lorry load of cash driven up to Granada’s door to ensure they gave absolutely everything against Barca. If you’re paying teams to win it’s fine!

And an even bigger lorry load of cash driven up to Granada’s door to ensure they gave absolutely everything against Barca.

Now with the eyes of Europe on what has been comfortably the most fiercely-contested domestic competition on the continent everyone will give everything just because they should. It was only a few years ago that Spain was looked at as a rather tired, predictable two-horse race in which Barcelona and Real Madrid never had to break out of a canter to finish first and second. As it turns out, it will be a two horse race this year. But what a race it’s been.

‘This is the hardest league in the world to win’ said Luis Enrique and with Leicester 10 clear of the field in England, Bayern eight clear in Germany, and Juventus nine clear in Italy, it’s hard to disagree.

Both Barca and Madrid have gone the distance and at 4pm next Saturday – with just one point between them – they will play one more 90 minutes. That 90 minutes that will decide the league.