After a grueling 37 matches played thus far this season, only one game is left to decide who will be lifting the La Liga trophy this Saturday. The top three teams could hardly be closer, being separated by three points in the standings. They have all performed well this season, and have qualified for Champions League play next season. But only one will lift the trophy on Saturday, and we take a look at all three in their order of finishing.
3) Atletico Madrid- Atletico currently reside in third place in the La Liga table, having fallen from the second spot with a loss to Levante on Sunday and eliminating them as potential La Liga champions. They rely on a tenacious defense and an offense led by Frenchman Antoine Griezmann, who has scored almost 40 percent of the team’s goals this season. Unlike rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Atletico roster is comprised of up-and-coming stars (such as Griezmann and Saul Niguez) and a few aging players (such as Fernando Torres and Diego Godin).
But the catalyst on this team is manager Diego Simeone, a former defensive midfielder who played in Argentina, Italy and Spain in a career that spanned two decades. After retiring as a player, El Cholo managed teams in Argentina and Spain before joining Atletico in 2011. Managing with the same passion he showed as a player, Atletico won the La Liga title in 2014 after a dry spell of a dozen years. Expect this squad to finish the season in the number three spot after a disappointing loss at Levante 2-1 on Sunday.
2) Real Madrid C.F. – Los Galacticos’ management and supporters accept nothing less than outright success, as former manager Rafael Benitez discovered this season. On Jan. 4, Real found themselves in third position in La Liga, four points behind Atletico Madrid and two behind second place Barcelona. While the second half of the season remained to climb to the top of the table, Real sacked Benitez January 4th and replaced him with former legendary player Zinedine Zidane, who was managing their reserve team. While Zidane has performed admirably in his first major managerial gig, Los Blancos will finish the season in the same spot that they were in when he took over at the helm of Madrid.
With world class players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema leading the team in goal scoring, it is easy to see how this team has lost only four games this season. While for most teams a season such as this would be seen as nothing short of remarkable, it will take a Champions League win against Atletico Madrid and the La Liga trophy for Zidane to return at the helm next season. Look for a second place finish and a new manager when the new campaign commences in August 2016.
1) FC Barcelona- No one said it would be easy. Maintaining what seemed like an insurmountable ten-point lead in the table headed into April, Barca stumbled a bit, and the race for the title tightened to the point where late in the season only one point separated the top three teams. But an 8-0 victory at Deportivo la Coruna on April 20th followed by a 6-0 victory at home against Sporting Gijon three days later seemed to right the ship. With a scoring juggernaut of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, it is no wonder that Barcelona has the largest goal differential (+80) in La Liga this season.
Manager Luis Enrique has done an admirable job rotating players in and out of the starting eleven in the hopes of keeping them fresh and having them match-fit for the end of the season. With their final game at Granada on Saturday, expect Barca to rise to the occasion and end the season with a win, cementing their position as the number one team in La Liga in 2016.