Insatiable FC Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid spice up the race for second

FC Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid continued their resurgent runs of form on the weekend to clock up six wins in a row each in LaLiga Santander, making for a compelling race for second place. They have both pulled level with Sevilla FC on 57 points, with just eight matchdays remaining.

Barça had to sweat to continue their winning streak, finally downing an impregnable Sevilla FC side 1-0 on Sunday thanks to an exquisite goal from Pedri in the second half. The victory took FC Barcelona level on points with their opponents, with Sevilla FC having occupied second place for most of the season.

It was always going to take something special to beat Julen Lopetegui’s side, who boast the best defence in LaLiga Santander and who were on a club record unbeaten run stretching back 15 games. But, teenage magician Pedri provided that something special, dancing past two defenders outside the area before arrowing into the far corner of the net to finally beat in-form goalkeeper Bono.

Even if it was a narrow victory, it was no less than Barça deserved after a dominant performance and it followed up their rampant 4-0 win at Real Madrid in ElClasico. Xavi’s side are in unstoppable form, boasting the longest unbeaten run in Europe’s top five leagues, as it’s now 14 games since they last tasted defeat in December. They are also the top-scoring team in Spain, while Ligue 1 side Rennes are the only side in Europe’s top five leagues who can better their tally of 27 goals in the last 10 games.

Pedri’s return to action after a five-month injury absence has been a key factor in Barça’s revival. Since the 19-year-old came back into the team in late January in the 1-0 win at Deportivo Alavés, Barça have won eight of nine league games, compared to seven victories in 20 matches in his absence.

“He is a superlative player and he scored an extraordinary goal,” Xavi said of his midfield sensation. “He makes the difference and watching him play is a spectacle. And he is only 19. Everything he gives us is a delight.”

Yet, there are so many other factors behind FC Barcelona’s return to form. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has made a truly remarkable impact since signing from Arsenal in January, scoring seven goals in eight appearances, including a double in the 4-0 win at Real Madrid and a hat-trick in the 4-1 success at Valencia CF. He has struck up a profitable partnership with Ferran Torres, another January arrival from the Premier League, who has four goals and three assists in eight matches.


A fascinating three-way battle

FC Barcelona, however, are not the only team in insatiable form right now. Atleti have also hit their stride at the perfect moment in the season.

It has been a stop-start campaign for the champions and, before this recent run, they had not managed to win more than two consecutive games. But, there is no stopping them now. Since a surprise 1-0 defeat at home to Levante UD in February, they have won six games in a row while scoring 15 goals in the process. João Félix has spearheaded their run, scoring six goals in six games as well as contributing two assists.

While all teams will keep fighting to push leaders Real Madrid as long as possible, the battle for second is so interesting with FC Barcelona, Atlético de Madrid and Sevilla FC all level on points. With second bringing a ticket to next season’s Spanish Super Cup, there is a lot at stake.

And, in this race, don’t count Sevilla FC out of it. Lopetegui’s side have struggled for results, taking 13 points from their last 10 matches, but they have still had a tremendous campaign, built on defensive solidity, which saw them win 12 games from 19 in the first half of the season.

Sevilla FC are fully focused on finishing the season well. “Our objective has always been to achieve something historic and qualify for the Champions League three times in a row,” said Lopetegui. “It’s going to be difficult, but we’re prepared to take it on. We have to compete in every game as if it were a final.”

The business end of the season is here, yet the race to finish second still has a long way to run.


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