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La Liga Second Half Season Preview: Who Has The Best Chance To Win

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The 2013-14 season of La Liga has to be one of the most entertaining and eye-catching of the last decade. For once a third power is glued to Real Madrid and Barcelona fighting each week to be at the top of the table. Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid have given a fresh perspective as well as an extra reason to put the Spanish national tournament back on the world’s radar. Unfortunately, for Atletico Bilbao and Villarreal, this season will be decided among the current three leaders tied at 57 points each.

After 23 weeks into the tournament, Barca, Real and Atletico all have 18 wins, three draws and two losses. However, because of goal difference the Blaugrana side appears in first place, followed by los Blancos in second, and los Colchoneros in third.

So in such a close title race, how can anyone predict the winner of this season? The difference in number of competitions each club is still involved, the amount of injured players and the approach Simeone, Carlos Ancelotti and Gerardo Martino have set for their respective clubs shall be the ‘x-factor’ for this season’s La Liga champion.

Number of Competitions

For starters Real Madrid and Barcelona will face off each other at least three more times this year, since both teams have advanced to the final of Copa del Rey and they also have to battle at Santiago Bernabeu during the La Liga. And of course, this could increase if they keep advancing in the UEFA Champions League.

Though Atletico were defeated by Real in the Spanish semifinal, they are going to receive los Blancos once again this season at Vincente Calderon for the national tournament and are going to visit Barcelona at Camp Nou. Also, they could also potentially face off one of the Spanish powerhouses in a further stage, in case they qualify in the UCL.

But in La Liga Los Colchoneros remain undefeated at home, with 10 victories and one tie. Their next 15 matches in the tournament show them hosting seven games and going away for another eight.

As for Barca, the current leader, they are programmed to have the same number of home and away matches as Atletico will have, while Real is the only club among these three to have more games left as the host, with eight, than going traveling for them, at seven.

Although neither los Merengues nor the Culés have a perfect record at home or as a visitor this season, they have had more success in scoring points as well as goals away than Atletico have. Barca scored 27 points and 27 gols, while Real reached the same number of away points but two extra goals.

Injured Players

Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi and Diego Costa are undoubtedly the main actors from their respective teams. Though their clubs have key players, who could come in and still help their teams, but the boost in moral and the attention-grabber these stars create against opponents cannot be matched by any of their team-mates. And injuries suffered by either of them would affect Real, Barca and Atletico’s shot at the title.

As for now Messi has returned but Jonathan dos Santos and Neymar remain out for Barca, meanwhile, Sami Khedira won’t return from a ligament rupture until June, Sergio Ramos and Ronaldo are suspended for two and three La Liga matches, respectively from Real Madrid. And Atletico appears with the most injured players at the moment with Jose Gimenez, Filipe, Javier Manquillo and Tiago.

Managers’ Mentality

Gerardo "Tata" Martino

‘Tata’ Martino’s first year ahead of Barcelona has started with the Spanish Super Cup title versus Atletico and definitely has great chances to pick up either the Copa del Rey or the La Liga. Yet out of the top three managers in the tournament at the moment, Barcelona appear to have changed the least with the arrival of a new coach.

Barta was given a bit more time in the first team, Neymar practically entered on the team as soon as he arrived and Iniesta hasn’t played as often as he used to. But system wise, Barca continue with the tiki-taka and some rare variations in their formation.

With Real Madrid, Ancelotti implemented his counter-attack ideology of quick runners in the wings upon his arrival, similarly to how he conducted AC Milan from 2001 to 2009.

But the pressure on Real manager’s shoulders is definitely high. Los Merengues’ last UCL championship match date back to the 2001-02 season. Also, the club’s president, Florentino Perez, has recently said that any title this year would make him happy, such a statement adds up more weight since the last title Real conquered was the La Liga, two years ago.

Simeone is likely to have the least pressure of all three managers. Although his current club lifted the Copa del Rey title last season, a La Liga championship took place for los Colchoneros the last time in 1995. So a victory in the national tournament this year would explode the fan base of the less affluent Madrid side.

Atletico’s Argentinian manager has also played low the chances of his side actually winning the La Liga, which he may have learned from Real’s previous manager, Jose Mourinho.

If Barca continue their balanced season and don’t come through major upsets specially against Atletico and Real, they should have the best shot at the title. But that’s too many ‘ifis’.

However, it would be beneficial to the tournament and to the excitement behind La Liga, if the Barca-Real axis of victories for decades breaks. Valencia was the last champion besides the Spanish powerhouses, in the 2003-04 season.

Next in the 24th round of La Liga, both Barcelona and Atletico will host their matches. Real Valladolid will come to Vicente Calderon and Rayo Vallecano will be at Camp Nou, both matches happening on Saturday. Meanwhile, Real will visit Getafe on Sunday.