Real Madrid will win the La Liga title on Saturday if they avoid a loss against Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu, as Carlo Ancelotti’s side looks to clinch the Spanish crown before meeting Manchester City in the Champions League next week.
Madrid leads Barcelona and Sevilla in La Liga by 15 points, meaning they only need one more point from their final five league games to win the title for the 35th time.
Real Madrid clinching a league they have dominated for months will come as no surprise given their position at the top since November, but dips in form from Barcelona and Sevilla have provided the opportunity for an earlier confirmation than expected.
Sealing La Liga might also provide Madrid with a lift ahead of the second leg of their semi-final against City on Wednesday when they will need to recover from a 4-3 deficit in the first leg last week in Manchester to reach another European final.
In a press conference on Friday, Ancelotti observed, “The trophy is so close.” “Since the end of the City match, the players have only talked about tomorrow’s game. We have a match point, and the top tennis players always win when they have a match point.”
Ancelotti is likely to vary his starting lineup against Espanyol in preparation for the return leg against Manchester City.
Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, and Vinicius Junior could all be rested, but some changes will be forced due to David Alaba’s injury and the suspensions of Eder Militao and Nacho Fernandez.
“We’ve got some defensive issues,” Ancelotti said. “I’ll have to go with Jesus Vallejo, who hasn’t played much but has always been a professional, and another central defender, possibly Casemiro.”
If Real loses against 13th-placed Espanyol, they may still win the league if both Sevilla and Barcelona lose, with Sevilla hosting Cadiz on Friday and Barcelona hosting Mallorca on Sunday night.
That possibility seemed improbable, but Barca’s form has deteriorated in recent weeks, with their loss at home to Rayo Vallecano last weekend making it three defeats in a row at the Camp Nou.
After the game, Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez commented, “We deserved more, but we didn’t show the personality we needed to display.”
“We’re in a precarious position. We’re still in contention for a spot in the top four, but we’ve made things difficult for ourselves. We must continue to fight.”
With a six-point lead over fifth-placed Real Betis in the Copa del Rey, Barcelona should still be able to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Second place, though, is very much up for grabs, with Sevilla level on points with Barca and Atletico Madrid only two points behind them in fourth. On Saturday, Atletico Madrid travels to Athletic Bilbao.
Last weekend, Atletico coach Diego Simeone remarked, “There are five games left, it will be very difficult, and whatever club has more energy will grab the reward of participating in the Champions League.”
By defeating Getafe on Monday night, Betis will keep their ambitions of finishing in the top four alive.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side will have to refocus after overcoming Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday to win the club’s first title since 2005.
Villarreal travels to Alaves on Saturday, three days before the return game at La Ceramica, after losing 2-0 to Liverpool in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final at Anfield in midweek.
Real Sociedad, who are now in sixth place, travel to Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Sevilla v Cadiz (1900)
Alaves v Villarreal (1200), Real Madrid v Espanyol (1415), Valencia v Levante (1630), Athletic Bilbao v Atletico Madrid (1900)
Elche v Osasuna (1200), Granada v Celta Vigo (1215), Rayo Vallecano v Real Sociedad (1630), Barcelona v Mallorca (1900)
Getafe v Real Betis (1900)