Real Sociedad scored a dramatic late winner at fellow high-flyers Granada to complete another unpredictable weekend in the La Liga title race.
With Barcelona suffering a shock 3-1 defeat at Levante and Real Madrid failing to capitalise in a goalless draw against Real Betis at the Bernabeu on Saturday, Portu’s 89th-minute winner for Sociedad means just two points separate the top six in Spain.
In fact, in a rather compact looking La Liga only four points split the top nine teams – while 13 sides sit within five points of top spot.
It’s shaping up to be some season.
Barca and Real continue to stutter
Just as it appeared champions Barcelona and main challengers Real Madrid were set to restore order in La Liga, Saturday happened.
After Granada condemned Barcelona to their worst start for 25 years after five games in September, Ernesto Valverde’s side rallied to win their next seven games in all competitions and return to the La Liga summit.
Meanwhile, Zinedine Zidane’s position was rumoured to be under threat as Real won just one of their opening three games and his win percentage during his second spell as manager dipped below 50%. Vital wins over Sevilla and Granada since had, on the surface at least, steadied the ship.
However, the latest setbacks for the Spanish heavyweights mean:
- It’s the first time since 2005-06 that Barcelona and Real Madrid both have 22 points or fewer at this stage of the season.
- Barcelona’s tally of 22 points is the fewest of any La Liga leader after 11 matches since Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna were tied on 21 points in 2000-01.
- Barca’s three defeats at this stage is the most by any leader in the Spanish top-flight since Osasuna in 2005-06.
- Only Real Madrid, in 2000-01, have gone on to win La Liga after losing three of their opening 11 matches in the 21st Century.
Barcelona and Real Madrid do, of course, have a game in hand – but that is against each other after El Clasico was postponed in October amid fears of civil unrest.
Who are the main contenders?
Either Barcelona or Real Madrid have been crowned champions in 14 of the past 15 seasons, with Atletico Madrid in 2013-14 the only exception since Valencia’s triumph in 2003-04.
But with the usual suspects failing to break clear, which sides are poised to take advantage?
Real Sociedad climbed to third in the standings with victory at Granada to move level on points with the top two – and Imanol Alguacil’s side could have hoped for even better had it not been for a midweek 2-1 defeat at home to Levante. Having finished ninth last season, Sociedad announced their intentions with a 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid in September.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid finished runners-up to Barcelona last term and would be expected to be the main threat to the status quo just as they were six seasons ago. Typically solid, Atletico have lost just once and conceded the fewest goals so far – but too many draws have prevented Simeone’s side from setting the early pace.
A 1-1 draw with Atletico ensured Sevilla, managed by former Real Madrid and Spain boss Julen Lopetegui, remain firmly involved. Real got the better of Sevilla in September, but could Lopetegui steal the last laugh?
If Granada had defeated Real Sociedad on Sunday, they would have become the first newly-promoted team in La Liga history to top the standings after the first 12 games. Diego Martinez’ side have been the ultimate surprise package this season, convincingly defeating champions Barcelona and leaving “everyone shocked” as they topped the league after 10 games. Back-to-back defeats see them sixth, yet firmly in the mix.
Heading for a dramatic finale?
La Liga has often been stereotyped for being a bit of a two-horse race – and rightly so at times – but there have still been a fair number of thrilling title races.
In 2007, Real Madrid beat Barcelona to the title thanks to a superior head-to-head record after finishing level on points, while in 1994 it was Barcelona’s turn to lift the trophy, beating Deportivo due to a better head-to-head record.
La Liga differs from some other leagues in that teams’ head-to-head records are used to separate them if they are equal on points.
Whoever has the best goal difference in the two matches will finish highest if the points are equal. If head-to-head goal difference is also the same, goal difference over the entire season is used then goals scored.
So, may we be heading for another dramatic conclusion?