If you watched El Clásico on Sunday, you would be shocked to find out there is a club higher on La Liga’s table than Barcelona and Real Madrid. The two Spanish rivals put on one of the most memorable football matches in a long time, which culminated in Barcelona coming away with a one-goal victory and a combined seven goals between the two.
The loss for Real Madrid officially drops them to second in the table behind Atlético Madrid. The two clubs each have 70 points on the season, but Alético currently would be league winners having bested Real Madrid in the first fixture of the season while drawing in the reverse.
The win was essential for Barcelona; the team have struggled to find consistency this season and have dropped three of their last ten matches. While they currently sit one point behind both Atlético and Real Madrid, they now seem primed for a legitimate run at a second consecutive La Liga title (it would be their fifth over the past six seasons).
The biggest highlight of Sunday’s match was Lionel Messi’s hat trick. Messi looked more like the old Messi than he has in quite a while as he continually found himself in better positions than his defenders all match long. And if you weren’t a fan of his treble, his seventh-minute assist to Andrés Iniesta was arguably the single nicest play of the match. An inspired Messi, who relinquished the Ballon d’Or to Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo this season after winning four consecutive ones (one in 2009 when the honor was still called the FIFA World Player of the Year), might be all it takes to lift Barcelona to another title.
Atlético will have difficulty staying atop the table as they have several hard matches to end the season. They face Athletic Bilbao on the road, an extremely difficult club to beat at home (11-3-1 at San Mamés this season). They then finish the season against Barcelona at Camp Nou — where Barcelona is 13-0-1 on the season. That match may ultimately decide the winner of the league.
Real Madrid have a much easier schedule the rest of the way: they do not face any of the other top-four clubs in the league, and six of their final nine fixtures come against clubs with negative goal differentials on the year. They could easily win out and take the league title.
The narratives of how this plays out are intriguing. The Barcelona victory in El Clasico is an almost script-perfect response to Ronaldo’s seizure of the Ballon d’Or from Messi. There’s also the Champions League, where all three top Spanish clubs remain alive and well in the quarterfinals.
Last season, German clubs Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich were the talk of European football, dominating in both domestic and European competitions. This year, however, it looks almost certain that it will come down to Real Madrid and Barcelona — both for the La Liga title and in the Champions League. Sunday’s match makes it hard to disagree.